Child Custody in Florida
November 10, 2009 7:23 AM   Subscribe

A friend of a friend wants to get custody of his kids but has no money to hire an attorney.

He is trying to find an organization willing to help him out pro-bono. Does anyone knows any of this organizations? The children live in Florida.
I'm clueless. Thanks!
posted by 3dd to Law & Government (11 answers total)
Courts will very likely not award custody to a father who would seem unable to financially care for his children. By looking for a free lawyer for this battle he's getting off on the wrong foot.

That said, I "binged" father's rights and theres a ton of organizations that deal with helping fathers get custody or shared custody rights try some of these results.

Honestly though, if he expects full custody, the mother needs to be a crack addicted prostitute who locks the children in the bathroom for at least 6 days at a time to even have a shot.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:57 AM on November 10, 2009

Just want to clarify, not saying your friend is a bad father, but custody rights seem very slanted towards the mother (hence, why there is a father's rights movement).
posted by WeekendJen at 7:59 AM on November 10, 2009

I have some experience with this.

First, all of the father's rights groups I have encountered were all bark and no bite. There are a lot of very angry men who either failed to work, and/or got worked over by, the system. I found no useful help there, but a lot of very angry and not very useful advice.

Few lawyers will take this work pro bono, but I imagine some will if you look hard enough. Still, your friend is *MUCH* better off raising the money to get an attorney.

Now, what you relate that he is asking for is a little vague. When you say custody - do you mean full custody ? Joint Custody and/or Visitation ? Full placement ? These words have different meanings in different states, so there is a fair amount of confusion in discussions about them. Point is, it will make getting information from the internet difficult.

At a minimum, you friend should spend a couple hundred dollars and talk with a good lawyer for an hour about the facts of his case and the law. Few lawyers will want to waste time helping him even to give advice.

So, having covered all of that, I want to encourage your friend. More men need to fight for their rights to be fathers to their children.

Some other advice :

Actions speak *MUCH* louder than words. If your friend has access rights (to access school/medical records) he should know who the kids teachers are. What the homework is like. What class is 5th hour. Who is the doctor ? What meds does the kid take ? Who are the kids friends ? So on and so forth.

If he wants to demonstrate an interest in his child's life, he should be actually demonstrating an interest in his child's life. I've met far too many fathers who complain about the bitch who got custody that couldn't even tell you what school their kids go to. If your friend really wants to be a parent, then just do it.

Also, there is no such thing as "winning". Broken families like this are hard on everyone. It's much more work and effort than you can imagine - and it's fraught with tension and anger and resentment. Patience and understanding will go a long way to making this easier on your friend, but like riding a bike, it's a process.

One last thing. If your friend is doing this to simply get back at his ex, or to reduce his child support and not out of any real desire to be an actual father, I hope he dies in a fire.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:30 AM on November 10, 2009 [20 favorites]

County law libraries have the resources for this man to do his own research, should he wish to represent himself. The librarians will not interpret law or give legal advice, but will point him in the direction of useful materials.

Also, I second Pogo_Fuzzybutt's final comment. Too many MRAs view custody as a zero-sum game, instead of honestly doing what's best for the kids.
posted by cereselle at 8:58 AM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look for legal aid groups in your area, especially those attached to law schools. I worked for a legal aid clinic that had a family law division. Students did a good bit of the grunt work, and were backed by attorney instructors. Might be worth looking into.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:35 AM on November 10, 2009

Also, there is no such thing as "winning".

This. Everyone loses, including the kids. The courts hate custody battles. Ask your friend to inquire about mediation which may or may not include lawyers.

but custody rights seem very slanted towards the mother

Unless the father has more money. Truly, the legal system, with regard to family law, sucks.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:05 AM on November 10, 2009

Many bar associations have linked pro bono (for free) legal programs or make referrals. It is worthwhile to check with the bar association in his area.

And what Pogo Fuzzybutt said.
posted by bearwife at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2009

I would question your friend's conclusion that he "can't afford an attorney."

Obviously his children are the most important thing in his life, right? Yet he can't afford an attorney to represent him in relation to the most important thing in his life?

This is the sort of thing people work eighty hours a week, just to pay for. If he represents himself, he will fail. He needs to be very clear on that. He will absolutely fail. So my advice is to do what it takes to get in a position to afford an attorney.

Lots of people, in my experience, want free legal representation, but are unwilling to take on another job to PAY for legal representation. That mentality bothers me because they're essentially wanting someone to work for them without compensation, but the client is not willing to work for compensation to pay the attorney. Unable to secure legal representation, they go into court and make complete fools of themselves, and lose their cases. They realize, once the case is over, that they couldn't afford not to have legal representation.
posted by jayder at 12:44 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think jayder is being a little harsh. I'm not sure things are right with the world when someone would have to work 80 hours a week just to be able to afford access to the justice system. And I'm really not sure I'd go around telling people that they had to work twice as long as is customary, just to be able to afford my services. But, his point stands. It is really hard to maneuver the legal system without an expert at your side. And it will be really hard to convince a judge that he is able to afford children if he can't afford a lawyer.

(Unfortunately, people rarely need lawyers except when they are in trouble. And when you are in trouble, it can be really hard to come up with that kind of money. Just like the medical field.)

On the other hand, I have seen first hand where onerous child support judgments force fathers to move back into their parents' basements and work two jobs, just to keep from drowning. In most cases, it's a deal where the guy is a skilled laborer and the child support is based on his hourly take-home rate times 40 hours a week. So if it happens to be a rainy month, he ends up in the hole. Or when someone gets laid off of a well-paying job, and can't get a job that pays as well, and the court can't or won't make any changes. A few months of misfortune can literally lead to a lifetime of misery and ruined relationships. The guy is behind on his support, so he loses visitation. Kids and dad grow further apart, dad goes further and further into debt, eventually loses drivers license or professional license (this is the law in many states!) and it is just awful.

(Not that I'm defending actual deadbeats, just that it is really easy to become a deadbeat when support is based on a dollar amount, not on a percentage. And when the family relationship turns adversarial- if the family is together, you just have a bad year and eat a lot of Ramen. If the family's finances are being directed by the legal system, see above...)

So if it's a situation like this, I can see where someone couldn't seem to afford legal services, and who would eventually be better off with a shared custody arrangement. And that's when you go to your local bar association and see what they can do for you.
posted by gjc at 4:40 PM on November 10, 2009

When our daughter's birthfather tried to get custody beginning two years ago, he was able to ask the court for a no-cost lawyer. At that time (and partly by getting good answers to some AskMe questions) I learned that it is fairly common for jurisdictions to provide lawyers at public expense for people involved in family law issues. Seems to have to do with the idea that the state has an interest in the well-being of children.

What I gleaned from court documents is that the birthfather contacted the clerk of the court to request representation. There was then a hearing to determine whether he was entitled to free representation, and after that a lawyer was appointed, thought it took some weeks. He did have a court-appointed attorney throughout the case and an appeal.

That is everything I know about the subject, but from it I would infer that your friend might start by contacting the clerk of the court in his jurisdiction, or looking on-line for forms at the court clerk's website.
posted by not that girl at 8:30 PM on November 10, 2009

I should say, provide lawyers at public expense for people who cannot otherwise pay. Our daughter's birthfather was indigent; we carried the whole freight of the $47,000 it cost us in legal fees.
posted by not that girl at 8:35 PM on November 10, 2009

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