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March 23, 2016

Collaborative Law Bill Passes Both Houses of the Florida Legislature

Collaborative Law Bill Passes Both Houses of the Florida Legislature

On March 4, 2016, the Florida legislature passed HB-967, the “Collaborative Law Process Act,” which seeks to support the out-of-court settlement of divorce, paternity, and other family law cases.  Florida joins 13 other states and the District of Columbia in passing a collaborative law bill. The law, called the Collaborative Law Process Act creates a statutory privilege, similar to the attorney-client privilege that, except in limited circumstances, prevents communications and negotiations during the collaborative process from ever being used against a spouse in court.

The collaborative process recognizes that instead of having a stranger on the bench order what is to be done for your family, spouses and parents are in the best position to resolve their disputes and reach an outcome that both parties can accept.  Collaborative practice, also known as collaborative divorce, collaborative law, or the collaborative process, is a unique form of dispute resolution where clients and their attorneys agree that, instead of spending money, time and energy fighting, all money, time, and energy is better spent on helping the parties reach an agreement. When the collaborative process goes smoothly it can be significantly less costly than a traditional contested divorce.  As part of the process, the parties sign a contract called the Collaborative Participation Agreement, which states that the attorneys can only be used to reach an out-of-court settlement and cannot be used to fight one another in divorce court battles.

The collaborative process recognizes that divorce is not primarily a legal matter. It is a highly emotional matter with significant financial implications for the future of all the parties. In recognition of this fact the collaborative process uses a neutral facilitator, generally with  mental health licensure, to help families focus on the future and what is most import to them.  A neutral financial professional, usually either a financial planner or accountant, is also oftentimes utilized to help parties make better decisions for their short and long-term financial futures.

Next steps

The bill is expected to be signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott.  The Florida Supreme Court will then develop rules of procedure and rules of professional conduct governing collaborative law. The law will not take effect until 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court adopts rules of procedure and professional responsibility that is consistent with the act.  If the process is completed quickly the law could be in force as early as this summer.

If you have further questions about the law or whether a collaborative process is right for you, please contact our offices.