Frequently asked questions

We answer for the most common questions

Here you will find the most frequent questions

What is a real estate transaction?

A real estate transaction is a process where a seller offers a home for sale and a buyer agrees to purchase it. At a very basic level, the process involves a number of tasks and activities before closing can occur and the property is officially transferred to the buyer. Many actors are involved in a real estate transaction and could include:

  • Real estate attorney
  • Real estate broker
  • Real estate agent
  • Seller
  • Buyer
  • Mortgage lender
  • Home inspector
  • Title company

Who is involved and how the process flows is often dependent on state law and regulations.


What is a deed?

A deed is a legal document that is used to transfer property from one person (grantor) to another person (grantee). They are typically used to transfer real estate as they are the proper way to transfer ownership rights in the property.

A deed to real estate must meet certain requirements to be considered valid. While the exact requirements vary between jurisdictions, they must be written, witnessed, and notarized. Deeds also need to be recorded in the county in which the real estate is located. Each county will have an office for this purpose, and it may be called the Register of Deeds, Recorder of Deeds, or something similar. Recording the deed is typically required as that is how ownership of a property is determined. A search of the public records will reveal who owns a certain piece of property.


Why do I need a title review in a real estate transaction in Florida?

There are different reasons why you may need to have your title reviewed through a title search. A title search will go back a certain number of years and document:

  • Who has owned the property during that time period
  • Whether there are any mortgages or other liens on the property
  • Whether there is anyone else that may claim an ownership interest in your property.

It would not be a good idea to purchase a property that has not had the title searched and reviewed. It is the best way to be sure of what you are actually purchasing.


Is litigation the only option to settle real estate disputes in Florida?

Litigation is rarely the only option for real estate disputes. Mediation is typically available and is highly recommended. Mediation is usually less time-consuming and less expensive. It also allows the parties a say in how the matter is settled. If mediation fails, litigation is always available.


Does a real estate lawyer help with both residential and commercial real estate transactions?

Whether or not a real estate lawyer is able to help with both residential and commercial real estate transactions depends on the attorney. While there are a lot of similarities between residential and commercial transactions, there are even more differences. Some attorneys are comfortable handling both while others prefer to focus on one or the other.


What is a seller’s market?

When you hear that it’s a “seller’s market,” it means that there is more demand for homes than there are homes available. Buyers often compete for homes in a seller’s market, driving up the cost of the properties and often resulting in bidding wars. It is not unusual for a home to sell for more than the asking price in a seller’s market. Sellers have a definite advantage, as buyers are paying more and overlooking property flaws just to be able to purchase a home.


What is a buyer’s market?

A “buyer’s market” is generally the opposite of a seller’s market. There are more homes for sale than there are purchasers interested in buying. Sellers are forced to lower their prices to be competitive and attract more potential purchasers.


What’s the difference between a real estate agent and a real estate lawyer?

A real estate agent (agent) is completely different from a real estate lawyer (lawyer). When you seek to buy or sell a house, an agent is there to help you through the process. For sellers, an agent can tell you what your home is worth, list it for sale, and show it to potential purchasers. For buyers, an agent can help you determine your budget, assist you in finding the home of your dreams, and help you make an offer.

A lawyer assists with the legal aspects of a real estate transaction. In many states, it is a requirement that an attorney performs all real estate transactions while in other states, an attorney is required to either be present at the closing or certify the title. In some states, a lawyer’s presence is not required but is highly recommended, especially for more complex real estate transactions that involve unusual aspects of the contract. A real estate attorney intends to make sure your legal interests in the real estate transaction are well-protected. Given that for most people, the purchase of a residential property is or will be one of the largest investments they will make in their lives, having your interests legally protected is as critical as it is reassuring.


How does a real estate lawyer help?

A real estate lawyer can help you understand the governing laws and the legal ramifications of your real estate transactions. They help with crucial aspects of the transaction, like:

  1. Contracts. Real estate lawyers will review, negotiate, and draft contracts, keeping your interests at the forefront of this process.
  2. Title Search. A real estate lawyer will conduct a title search, and if a lien or another issue is discovered, the lawyer can help address it timely and can obtain proof that the lien is fulfilled.
  3. Closings. Any number of issues can arise during closing events, and only a real estate lawyer has the legal wherewithal to address them and keep the seller or buyer from being left in the dark or having their rights violated without their knowledge.
  4. Fraud. Real estate fraud and scams are on the rise. Unsuspecting buyers lose out on their closing funds and the home they thought they were purchasing. With a lawyer who has done the due diligence, becoming a victim of one of these types of real estate schemes can be avoided.
  5. Advice. Generally speaking, real estate attorneys can provide legal advice that a seller or buyer cannot obtain from an agent or broker. Getting smart legal advice over any and all matters related to the real estate transaction offers value from the peace of mind to favorable and timely solutions.

Further, real estate attorneys make sure that once the property has passed hands, you have received the property (as the buyer) or compensation (as the seller) to which you are entitled.

Before putting your home on the market or going to a real estate showing, consider reaching out to a real estate attorney in Florida. At Szabo Law Gorup PA., our goal is to make sure your real estate transaction experience goes smoothly. Contact us today either by using our online form or calling us to schedule a consultation.


Can an attorney who is not designated as local counsel electronically file the document in CM/ECF for local counsel (meaning another attorney files the motion in CM/ECF under the local counsel’s login/password)?

Only the designated local counsel can electronically file the motion in CM/ECF. However, Section 3C of the CM/ECF Administrative Procedures, allows the designated local counsel to “authorize” an employee of his/her office to use their password, but local counsel is ultimately “responsible for all documents filed with their passwords, whether by Users or any other person.”


Can I file as a PHV attorney when my bar membership in this Court is not in good standing due to my Florida Bar membership either being suspended or otherwise being designated as not eligible to practice law in Florida?

No. Rule 4(b)(1) of the Rules Governing the Admission, Practice, Peer Review, and Discipline of Attorneys prohibits attorneys seeking admission pro hac vice while also being admitted to practice in the Southern District of Florida.


Can the PHV attorney electronically sign their certification and/or the motion to appear PHV or does it have to be a wet signature?

The certification and/or PHV Motion can be electronically signed by the PHV attorney, but the motion itself must be filed by the designated local counsel. Pursuant to Section 3J(1) and (2) of the CM/ECF Administrative Procedures, “[a] document requiring an attorney’s signature that is filed electronically using his/her login and password shall be considered signed when the attorney’s name is on the signature block,” and this applies to those documents “that require original signatures or that require either verification or a sworn declaration.”


Does local counsel have to appear at hearings?

Pursuant to 28 United States Code § 955, the Clerk’s Office staff is prohibited from giving information which may be characterized as legal advice. Whether or not designated local counsel has to appear at hearings would require an interpretation of the applicable rules governing attorney admission and pro hac vice status, which the Clerk’s Office is without authority to do so. We recommend you review Rule 4 of the Rules Governing the Admission, Practice, Peer Review, and Discipline of Attorneys and consult the judge presiding in your case.


Does the certificate of service have to be signed by local counsel?

Pursuant to Section 3K(4) of the CM/ECF Administrative Procedures, “[n]o certificate of service is required when a party files a document electronically unless the document is served other than through CM/ECF.”


How do I file pro hac vice (PHV)?

Pursuant to Rule 4(b) of the Rules Governing the Admission, Practice, Peer Review, and Discipline of Attorneys:

(b) Appearance Pro Hac Vice.

(1) An attorney who is a member in good standing of the bar of any United States Court, or of the highest Court of any State or Territory or Insular Possession of the United States, but is not admitted to practice in the Southern District of Florida may, upon submission of a pro hac vice motion filed and served by co-counsel admitted to practice in this District, be permitted to appear and participate in a particular case. A certification that the applicant has studied the Local Rules shall accompany the pro hac vice motion together with such appearance fee as may be required by administrative order. If permission to appear pro hac vice is granted, such appearance shall not constitute formal admission or authorize the attorney to file documents via CM/ECF.

(2) Lawyers who are not members of the bar of this Court shall not be permitted to engage in general practice in this District. For purposes of this rule, the filing of more than three motions to appear pro hac vice within a 365-day period in separate representations before the Courts of this District shall be presumed to be a “general practice.” Upon written motion and for good cause shown the Court may waive or modify this prohibition.

(3) The pro hac vice motion shall designate at least one member of the bar of this Court and who is authorized to file through the Court’s electronic filing system, with whom the Court and opposing counsel may readily communicate regarding the conduct of the case, upon whom filings shall be served, and who shall be required to electronically file and serve all documents and things that may be filed and served electronically, and who shall be responsible for filing and serving documents in compliance with the CM/ECF Administrative Procedures. See Section 2B of the CM/ECF Administrative Procedures. The pro hac vice motion must be accompanied by a written statement consenting to the designation, and the address and telephone number of the named designee(s). Upon written motion and for good cause shown the Court may waive or modify the requirements of such designation.

Effective December 1, 1994. Amended effective Jan. 1, 1996; April 15, 2007; April 15, 2010; December 1, 2014; December 1, 2015; December 1, 2017; December 3, 2018.


How do I remove an attorney on a given case?

A document explaining who is being removed or substituted and why must be created and converted into a PDF format. Since all changes in representation must be approved by the Court, a Motion to Withdraw as Attorney or Motion to Substitute Attorney needs to be submitted. Once you log in to CM/ECF, you can select the appropriate event under “Motions and Related Filings”.

When the Clerk’s Office sees that this motion has been approved by the Court, they will remove the attorney from the case. Until this is completed, the Court will still consider the attorney as a participant in the case and the system will continue to send him/her the notifications.

How do I update my email information within the CM/ECF system?

Changes to your primary email address must be updated through your PACER account. Go to PACER.gov and log in to your PACER account. Click Manage My Account at the top of the screen. Click Maintenance tab. Click Update E-Filer Email Noticing and Frequency. Complete. Apply updates to Selected Court. Click Submit. [Updates to secondary email addresses must be made in CM/ECF NextGen.]

If I am not a member of this Court’s Bar & do not reside or practice within this District but am a FL Bar member whose membership has either been suspended or otherwise designated as not eligible to practice law in FL, may I apply as a PHV in this Court?

Yes, so long as you retain membership in “good standing of the bar of any United States Court, or of the highest Court of any State or Territory or Insular Possession of the United States.” Rule 4(b)(1), Rules Governing the Admission, Practice, Peer Review, and Discipline of Attorneys.


Whose responsibility is it to keep an attorney’s contact information current?

Pursuant to Local Rule 11.1(g), it is the attorney’s responsibility to keep their contact information current. Email information, including email information for additional recipients on the account, needs to be kept up-to-date in order for the CM/ECF system, which relies on email notifications, to function effectively. Local Rule 11.1(g) requires all attorneys to update their contact information including email address within seven (7) days of a change. The failure to comply shall not constitute grounds for relief from deadlines imposed by Rule or by the Court. All Court Orders and Notices will be deemed to be appropriately served if directed either electronically or by conventional mail consistent with information on file with the Clerk of Court.


Who can file the motion to appear PHV?

The motion must be filed by counsel admitted to practice in this District, although it may be drafted by either the local counsel or movant so long as the requisite certification and consent are included in the motion as required under the Rules. Rule 4(b)(1) and (3), Rules Governing the
Admission, Practice, Peer Review, and Discipline of Attorneys.


What should be done when an attorney leaves the firm?

When an attorney leaves the firm, both the attorney and the firm need to consider the implications to the CM/ECF noticing system. For those cases that will remain with the attorney, the attorney needs to electronically file a Notice of Change of Address in all pending cases they have with the Court and update their contact information through their PACER account.

For those cases that will remain with the firm, the firm needs to electronically file a Notice of Substitution of Counsel or a Notice of Change of Counsel to ensure that the Court docket accurately reflects the proper attorney of record so that the new attorney of record will receive email notifications.


How Does A Judge Decide A Parenting Plan In Florida?

In Florida a judge must begin with the assumption that each parent will have equal time with the children and equal responsibilities and decision-making power (unless there is evidence that this arrangement would be detrimental to the child). Then the judge considers circumstances that will impact an equal sharing arrangement. For example, when developing a timesharing plan, these include each parent’s work schedule, the child’s school schedule and location, the location of each parent, the living arrangements of each parent, and similar circumstances.

Lifestyle choices may also play a role in determining a parenting plan. If one parent exhibits a pattern of irresponsible behavior or social habits that may be deemed harmful to a child, that parent is likely to receive less time sharing with the child and less decision-making authority.


Under Florida Law Is One Spouse Responsible For The Other’s Welfare If Getting Divorced?

In Florida, alimony may be granted to either the husband or wife and is based on one party’s needs and the other party’s ability to pay. If a divorce leaves one spouse without an income or ability to support themselves and the other spouse has sufficient income, then alimony may be granted to the spouse who is unable to support themselves.

Sometimes alimony is for a temporary period while the receiving spouse gains skills, employment and financial independence.


If Parents Are Divorced Who Pays Kids Car Insurance?

In a divorce with teenage kids of driving age, the parent who owns the car driven by the teenager must pay the car insurance. If both parents own cars that will be driven by the teenager, then each parent must insure their respective vehicles.

Additionally, if one parent has more time with the teenager, that parent is usually required to add the teen to his or her insurance policy. This expense can be included in child support computations or the parents can agree to have the teen pay for his or her share of the insurance. Alternatively, a separate policy can be purchased for the teen by either parent and the expense either added to child support computations or made the responsibility of the teenager.

Can One Partner File Simplified Dissolution of Marriage?

In Florida, a simplified dissolution of marriage is only available to couples who agree to use this form of dissolution proceeding and completely agree on how to divide all their property and debts. Since both spouses must be in complete agreement and will be unable to examine each other as witnesses or obtain documents pertaining to each other’s income, expenses, assets and liabilities, it is not possible for only one partner to file a simplified dissolution of marriage.

Other requirements for using a simplified dissolution of marriage include:

  • They must have no natural or adopted minor children or dependent children
  • The mother cannot be pregnant
  • At least one spouse must have lived in Florida in the past six months
  • Both partners must agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken and want to end their marriage because of serious permanent differences


How To File For Paternity In Florida?

To file for paternity in Florida, start by completing Family Law Form 12.983(a), Petition to Determine Paternity and for Related Relief with the circuit court in the county where you live. This form is used by individuals who want to establish paternity, time-sharing and child support for a child. Typically, it is applied under one of the following circumstances:

  • A mother wants to have the child’s father identified and held responsible for his parenting obligations
  • A father wants to protect his parenting rights in regards to children he believes are his
  • A man assumed to be the father wants to establish that he is not the father and free himself of parenting obligations

Once the form is filed, the individual filing for paternity must serve notice of the action on the other individual concerned. If the father is not known or cannot be located, the mother can serve notice through publication in newspapers, a process known as constructive service.


How do I officially change my name with The Florida Bar?

Send a letter or a completed Name Change Request Form to the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office requesting your name be changed on the roll of attorneys. The request may be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to Florida Supreme Court, Clerk’s Office, 500 South Duval Street, Tallahassee FL 32399.

Your request should include: your name as currently listed with The Florida Bar; your new name clearly divided into first, middle, and last names; and your Florida Bar number. If you wish for the name change order to be returned by mail, rather than to your registered email address, you must include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your mailed request. Please do not send any personal documents, such as copies of identification documents or marriage/dissolution documents, with this form. Such documents are not needed to process a name change request.


I need legal help but can’t afford an attorney/lawyer.

If you have a civil legal problem but cannot afford to hire a private lawyer, you still may have access to the legal system through your local legal services-legal aid organization which provides free or low cost legal services to persons with low incomes. Information about many of these local services can be found on the state court webpage for legal aid.


What is the correct font size and type for briefs?

Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.210(b) requires all briefs that are computer-generated to be submitted in either Arial 14-point font or Bookman Old Style 14-point font. These are the only font types that are acceptable. Also, all briefs that are computer-generated shall contain a certificate of compliance signed by the counsel, or the party if unrepresented, certifying that the brief complies with the font requirements of this rule. This certification shall be included right after the certificate of service.


What must a foreign attorney do to appear on behalf of a client in the Florida Supreme Court?

Attorneys who are members in good standing in other jurisdictions may be granted permission by court order to appear in proceedings in this Court. Submissions must be in compliance with both Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.440(a) and the requirements contained in Florida Rules of Judicial Administration.


What are the duties of the State Attorney?

The prosecution of those accused of committing crimes is conducted by the Office of the State Attorney and to a small degree the Office of Statewide Prosecutor. We are responsible for representing the State in all criminal proceedings that result from the charging of a person with a crime by law enforcement and/or this office.


How do I initiate a criminal complaint?

To report a crime, please contact your law enforcement agency or the agency that covers the jurisdiction in which the crime occurred. If you have a complaint involving misconduct by a public official or know of an election law violation, you may report that in writing to the this office. If you have a complaint about a law enforcement officer, you should first report it to that agency’s Internal Affairs department. Once your complaint is investigated, and it warrants an arrest, the case is submitted to our office for an investigation to confirm if there is evidence suitable for prosecution.


How many State Attorneys are there?

There are 20 State Attorneys in the State of Florida representing 20 judicial circuits. For more information about each of the circuits, visit Florida’s State Attorneys.


What is the Judicial Circuit?

Judicial circuits are arranged geographically and administratively for our court system. There are 20 judicial circuits headed by the 20 elected State Attorneys. These 20 judicial circuits are part of the larger five District Courts of Appeal in Florida. The State Supreme Court is in Tallahassee.


What is the difference between the Attorney General and State Attorney?

All criminal cases are prosecuted in local courts by the State Attorneys or by a Statewide Prosecutor, appointed by the Attorney General. The AG represents the State of Florida when criminal cases are appealed to the District Courts of Appeal or to the Supreme Court. The Statewide Prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting certain criminal cases that span more than two judicial circuits.


What is the Felony Division?

The Felony Division is were crimes are more serious than a misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of possible incarceration in a state prison facility.


What is the Misdemeanor Division?

This division prosecutes violations of criminal traffic laws, and misdemeanor offenses.  A misdemeanor offense is defined by Florida Law as offenses punishable by a maximum sentence of incarceration of up to one year in county jail.


What is the Juvenile Division?

Juvenile is a Circuit Court Division handling all felony and misdemeanor cases committed by individuals under the age of 18.  Standard sentence alternatives include probation and commitment programs administered by the Department of Juvenile Justice.  In addition, there are many specialized diversion programs designed to address public safety concerns as well as the needs of the Juveniles.  Examples of those programs are Drug Court, Restorative Justice Program, Teen Court, Prodigy, Wake-Up, Man-Up, Stars, and Ladies First programs.  We believe that early intervention is the key to redirecting a youth toward a more positive future.


What is a Grand Jury?

The Grand Jury serves as a very special function in Florida’s criminal courts.  The only charge a State Attorney cannot file based on his or her constitutional authority is first-degree murder.  All first-degree murder cases must be presented to a grand jury.  A Grand Jury is an investigating, reporting, and accusing agency of the circuit court (or of the Florida Supreme Court in the case of the Statewide Grand Jury).  It consists of citizens who have been summoned and empaneled by a judge of the circuit court (or by a judge appointed by the Florida Supreme Court, in the case of the Statewide Grand Jury). The importance of the grand jury’s power is emphasized by the fact that it is one of the most independent bodies known to the law.


Things to remember before coming to court:

  • Dress neatly and conservatively for court
  • Do not memorize your testimony, but try to review the facts before the trial.
  • Relax, speak loudly and clearly, directing your answers to the jury.
  • Do not lose your temper when answering questions.
  • Do not discuss your testimony with other witnesses


What is the Criminal Justice Process?

Arrest: Law Enforcement makes an arrest based upon the witnesses information. After arrest, most assailants are entitled to a bond.

First Appearance: A hearing held within the first 24 hours of the arrest.

Filing Decision:  Assistant State Attorney reviews the case after reviewing the information, held interviews, etc. and makes a charging decision.  If the case is not filed, a No Information Notice is filed and the Defendant is released from custody if still in jail.  All charges are dropped.

Arraignment:  Within two weeks of the charging decision, the defendant goes to court and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. Case is set for Trial at this point and subpoenas go out to all the witnesses listed. Victims have the right to be present at arraignment; however their presence is not required.

Depositions:  This is a way where the State and Defense learn about the case. Florida law allows the defense to interview witnesses before trial.  You will receive a subpoena and will be sworn prior to the deposition before an official court reporter.  The Defendant will not be present.

Plea:  A plea may be offered by the state to the defendant.  You will receive notification by phone or mail. Many cases are settled without witnesses having to go to trial.

Status Conference:  A hearing held to advise the court if the defense is ready to go to trial.

Pre Trial Conference:  A hearing held two weeks before the trial.

Continuances:  The State will try cases as quickly as possible.  However, there are often circumstances that cannot be controlled which make continuance necessary

Trial:  Trial is when witnesses are needed in court.  Trial is normally held within 175 days of the arrest for a felony (called Speedy Trial). Trial is normally held within 90 days for a misdemeanor or traffic case.

Sentencing:  Once the defendant is found guilty or not guilty or enters a plea at trial, the Judge can set the case for sentencing.  Victims will be notified by phone or mail about this date.


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