Hiding the Ball
When I was studying for my B.A. in Legal Studies we had this one professor, Dr. Flagg who delighted in “hiding the ball”. Before a test he would tell us that some of the exam questions were hidden, buried somewhere in the textbook, case law, class discussion, or extra reading material. During an exam review he wouldn’t give us a hint as to what those questions were even about. A few months ago, I came across a former classmate, UCF class of 2002. She had continued to law school, I did not. We talked about good old Dr. Flagg, and what a tough prof he was. She told me that Dr. Flagg was more difficult than many of her professors at law school.
I learned a lot from Dr. Flagg. It turned out that I learned a lot of information that I didn’t need to pass his exams. That was exactly the point of his hiding the ball exercise. As any good teacher will assert, the point of taking courses, is not to pass the test, but to learn the material.
However, I believe it is unfair and inappropriate for the ball to be hidden from legal consumers. In Florida, clerks of courts, are not allowed to choose forms for consumers. Choosing legal forms for another person, is considered legal advice, according to the Florida Bar rules governing the unlicensed practice of law. The question that sticks in my mind is that if a consumer knows what he wants to do, say modify his child visitation, is telling that consumer that he needs a Supplemental Petition for Modification of Parenting Plan/ Time-Sharing Schedule and Other Relief legal advice? Is it?
That consumer already knows what he wants to do. He simply doesn’t know the name of the form. Often, when a consumer asks the clerk of court for a form to modify his child visitation, he is sold a package of forms. The Supplemental Petition is in the package, as are the other forms that must be filed with it. Fair enough. Again, however, the ball is hidden. Along with the form the consumer needs, and the forms that must be filed with it; are forms that might be needed, depending on that consumer’s precise circumstances.
Now it is the consumer’s task to go through all of the forms and determine which ones he really needs. And he wonders if he doesn’t need all those forms, why were they included in the package to begin with.
With luck, that consumer is an above average reader. If not, the ball is hidden yet again, and he won’t be able to read the forms’ instructions. The instructions for the Florida Supreme Court approved family law forms for pro se litigants are written at a first year college level. According to the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), over 50% of Floridians have less than a first year college reading level. If you like statistics, follow this link -
The Consumer Product Safety Commission requires installation and safety instructions for infant car seats to be written at a 5th grade level. This federal agency recognizes that many consumers are unable to read and comprehend complex instructions; and that a child could die from a parent’s lack of reading skills.
In my opinion, family law matters are as important to families as child safety. In fact, Florida courts support the doctrine of “the best interests of the child” in all family law matters. My question: Is the child’s best interest being served if the ball is hidden? Are the child’s interests served if legal access is so difficult that parents finally give up?
Tags: upl hiding the ball pro se litigants faldp.org
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