I'm a Floridian. I fled domestic violence 12/2017 with my children more than 50 miles from the marital residence. I

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Customer: I'm a Floridian. I fled domestic violence 12/2017 with my children more than 50 miles from the marital residence. I retained counsel then, who unfortunately botched things and drained my credit dry so I have no money for legal advice. My extremely vindictive ex has hidden marital assets and has diligently worked to appear as if he has no money by taking cash for work. I am not ready. Pretrial is 7/31, and trial is end of Aug. I need more time. How do I go about it?
JA: What steps have you taken? Have you filed any papers in family court?
Customer: We filed for a DVI the day we fled. We filed an emergency motion for temp sole custody, and an urgent motion for temp sole custody. Father filed for return of children to the county where they had resided/gone to school. Because we fled more than 50 miles and apparently my former counsel did not do process properly, judge sided with my ex. We had spoken with DCF and had an ongoing investigation into father's abuse at that point. They did not err on the side of caution.
JA: Family law varies by state. What state are you in?
Customer: Florida We had a hearing for that 2/2018 where I attempted to provide audio proof of father's abuse. Father lied, saying he did not know he was being recorded by surveillance cams he installed in the marital home. I found evidence of a phone call he had recorded on a backup device May of 2018 which had him stating he'd installed the camera, down to the detail. My former attorney took until 10/2018 to file the perjury filing, and we went to court for that 1/2019. Father lied again, stating the recording app he had on his phone was unknown to him, and that I had installed it w/o his knowledge. All my evidence has been inadmissable. I asked for a guardian ad litem for over a year to no avail.
JA: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?
Customer: I am hopelessly stuck as a pro se litigant. I am not ready for pretrial/trial. I need to file for a continuance, I think, but want to know if "I need more time." is a sufficient reason. I am a one-woman legal team who doesn't know the law.
Answered by Law Answers in 4 hours 3 years ago
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Customer
As of now, we have no parenting plan in place, although I sent my (former) attorney a few iterations. He did not present those to opposing counsel or the Court. Judge has switched to a different judge, who we went in front of 1/2019. Court found my abuser in contempt for not providing financials, but did not pass my motion for relief because he lied to make my proof of his perjury inadmissible.
Customer
DCF was called twice by two different therapists due to something alarming the children had said about being abused. DCF popped in with the children and myself twice in Citrus County FL where I now reside. DCF Collier had to make an appointment to see the marital home. Took her 5 days to get access to speak to our abuser and see the state of the house (after he had it professionally cleaned and bought furniture.) DCF Collier spoke with the children a day-and-a-half after they were forced to return to their abuser. At the point when DCF saw them they had been tongue lashed about speaking out, and threatened not to do so again. DCF closed the case. When I was referred twice to legal aid I was turned down because DCF did not move forward legally.
Customer
This was a letter drafted by my oldest when she learned that she would have to be returned to the marital home with our abuser.
Customer
These were the motions made in October. Nothing had been done at all since the previous February, despite my pushing. I had found the recording we used for evidence in the beginning of May 2018.
Customer
These are motions my (former) attorney filed regarding limited appearance for only the Motion for Relief and Motion for Contempt.
Customer
This was the outcome from our last hearing.
Customer
These are the mediation reports. I went to both pro se. Opposing counsel presented theirs, but was not willing to listen to mine. First mediation opposing counsel held the stance that my abusive ex kept all marital assets. After 30 years (21 of them in marriage) we fled with the clothes on our backs. They also held the stance that my abusive ex would have the children primarily, and because I moved more than 50 miles away I would only get visitation every other weekend, and I would be forced to pay alimony. I am on welfare, making less than $700/mo because I've had no bridge-the-gap, no anything and must travel in order to spend time with our children because I refuse to abandon them, and continue to do my best to provide them with positive role models and give them emotional support they desperately need. When I did not agree to their terms, they terminated that mediation and left, asking for another. Within a couple of days they contacted me stating I needed to sign the mediation deal they presented. I declined, stating it was the same thing I'd not agreed to in mediation. Second mediation they came in with the same deal, stating that if I had any other ideas they would not listen. When I declined again, they left abruptly stating it was going to trial. That's not mediation in my opinion. That's bullying.
Customer
Opposing counsel is chomping at the bit to get testimony from the Collier DCF investigator who spent only 15 mins with our children right after they'd been returned to their abuser (and were rightly terrified.) She never formally interviewed me. Her (two) Citrus County counterparts each spent over an hour each time with the children and myself. I plan to call them to testify as well, although I'm not sure why any of them would be valuable. Do you have any insight as to why?
Customer
The order for the testimony of DCF Tate has been put through, but I have put through an objection to her testimony based on the fact that she did not spend ample time or effort investigating. I have not heard word on my objection yet. To be clear, I am pro se. My main issue at this point is that I am completely unprepared for court. 01/28/19 my attorney was gone. I then worked on getting referral to Legal Aid. It takes a while to get an appointment with them, so my appt was 04/03/19, the same day as first mediation. A couple weeks later I found that they would not take me.Per the advice and referral of Legal Aid, I called several attorneys to try to get pro bono help. It took a couple of weeks on the phone to get turned down, or outright ignored. During this time I was still traveling back and forth every third week to see my children (4 hours one way.) I was having to do my best to work to make minimal money, make phone calls to try to secure legal help, prepare my annual taxes, attend domestic violence meetings and therapy, renew my food and Medicaid benefits, secure proper Medicaid insurance providers and care practitioners and even sometimes sleep and breathe.I continued to make calls to try to secure legal help, and mid-Florida referred me a second time because they were shocked to learn that Legal Aid Collier had turned me down expressly because DCF did not move forward legally with the allegations of abuse. I made several calls over the next couple of weeks to Legal Aid to see what the result of that referral was, and when I might be able to get an appointment. In the meantime the Court wanted to get this divorce proceeding moving, because between my bad former attorney and my abuser's method of trying to hang on (while declaring to our children that I would be returning to him) had made the case stagnant.I had a family friend who had reached out to another friend to see if I could get pro bono help. That person said my former attorney had botched things so badly it would take $20K-$30K to straighten out, so they wouldn't take me pro bono. That same afternoon I called Legal Aid Collier once more to find out they wouldn't even take me for the intake appt because it would have the same reason to turn me down... DCF's failure to move legally on the abuse. I contacted the court to let them know I was pro se, and they set out to find dates for trial.Opposing counsel worked to rush things, and I had health issues, so mid-July dates conflicted with appointments I'd made in March. The Judicial Assistant said it looked like there would be nothing until Oct/Nov 2019, but then found other dates (which shortened the time in court from 3 full days to only 2.) Opposing counsel pointed out to the judge that I did not have brick and mortar employment, and therefore I should agree to any dates they give. Since the judge was outwardly preturbed about how long this divorce has already taken, I erred on the side of caution and agreed to end of August for dates, thinking I'd be ready.I am not even close, and pretrial is only days away (7/31). There are stipulations that 5 days prior to pretrial I was to have a Pretrial statement. I don't even know how to do one. I don't have one. I NEED educators and therapist, and DCF workers to testify, so I need to get them subpoenaed in order to prove my case about the abuse that is happening. I'm panicked, as I really want to save my little girls from further abuse, and I hope to at least be able to get a continuation. I'm simply not ready as a pro se person. I wonder if that is the reason I'd give, or if it needs to be more explicit.
Customer
I had not included that in my last entry. That outlines the stipulations for Pretrial Statement, which I have now missed. I don't want my evidence/witnesses to be excluded. I really need continuance.
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Law Answers, Expert

Hello,

I am very sorry to hear of your circumstances. Whether to grant a motion for continuance is in the discretion of the trial court, and it seems that you have valid grounds to request one. I direct you to a recent Florida Appeals Court case in which the Appellate Court reversed the trial court decision to deny such a motion:

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/fl-district-court-of-appeal/1791692.html

There, the wife needed more time to acquire a forensic accounting so that she had all the evidence necessary to demonstrate what the marital assets were. You will see that the court considers why the continuance is necessary and whether the continuance would cause any undue prejudice to your husband. It is typical for the court to grant at least one reasonable continuance request, as long as you can demonstrate these things.

I hope this answers your question. All the best to you.

Customer
Thank you. I am right now preparing my pre-trial statement, which was to be done by the 26th. I will prepare a motion for continuance and keep my fingers crossed.
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Law Answers, Expert

Very best of luck to you.

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