Collaborative Law Rules at Florida Supreme Court

Collaborative Law Rules Oral Arguments at Florida Supreme Court

On February 9, 2017, the Honorable Laurel M. Lee, Circuit Court Judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County and Chair of the Family Law Rules Committee of the Florida Bar Family Law Section, along with collaborative attorney Robert Merlin, Vice Chair of the Committee and a Board Member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, stood before the Florida Supreme Court (video) to argue in favor of the adoption of collaborative law rules of procedure and professional conduct.

In 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law the Collaborative Law Practice Act, but the Act does not go into effect until the Florida Supreme Court approves rules.  The Act creates a framework for collaborative family law, which is a private form of dispute resolution where attorneys focus solely on helping clients reach an out-of-court agreement.

Judge Lee explained to the Supreme Court Justices that the process is voluntary: “It is entirely a voluntary process by the litigants and families that choose to engage in the collaborative law process.  It can be terminated by either of the parties at any time.”

Judge Laurel Lee at Florida Supreme Court Arguing In Favor of Collaborative Law Rules

Judge Laurel Lee at Florida Supreme Court Arguing In Favor of Collaborative Law Rules

When asked if collaborative practice could help those with modest means, Judge Lee told the Supreme Court justices how she first came to learn about collaborative divorce:

“I first became aware of the collaborative process when a case came to my trial court in which all of the collaborative team – including the attorneys, the mental health professional, and the financial professional – had taken the case pro bono. I know in my circuit there is a group of collaborative professionals who take low cost or reduced fee cases so that parties do have access to this process even if they are not families of great financial means.”

Upon being asked by Justice Ricky Polston what effect collaborative practice has on mediation, Judge Lee replied, “They are not mutually exclusive.  Collaborative is a process that the parties can choose to engage in but does not preclude the use of any other alternative dispute resolution methods.  So [mediation] could certainly remain an option for litigants.”

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Proposed Collaborative Divorce Professional Conduct Rule Published in Florida Bar News

In March of 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law the Collaborative Law Process Act (“CLPA”).  The CLPA, among other things, protects communications within the collaborative process so that participants can be more open in their discussions and can rest assured that proposals and comments made while trying to reach agreement cannot later be used against them.

However, the CLPA does not go into effect until after the Florida Supreme Court adopts Rules of Professional Conduct and Rules of Procedure.

Proposed rules have been approved by the Florida Board of Governors, and they have been published in the August 15, 2016 edition of the Florida Bar News for comment.  Once the comment period is over, the Florida Supreme Court will determine whether it will approve the rules.

You can find the proposed Rule of Professional Conduct (4-1.19) after the jump (the proposed Rule of Procedure is published in a separate post):

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Proposed Collaborative Law Procedural Rule Published in Florida Bar News

In March of 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law the Collaborative Law Process Act (“CLPA”).  The CLPA, among other things, protects communications within the collaborative process so that participants can be more open in their discussions and can rest assured that proposals and comments made while trying to reach agreement cannot later be used against them.

However, the CLPA does not go into effect until after the Florida Supreme Court adopts Rules of Professional Conduct and Rules of Procedure.

Proposed rules have been approved by the Florida Board of Governors, and they have been published in the August 15, 2016 edition of the Florida Bar News for comment.  Once the comment period is over, the Florida Supreme Court will determine whether it will approve the rules.

You can find the proposed Family Law Rule of Procedure (12.475) after the jump (the Rule of Conduct is published in a separate post):

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Will Florida Grant a Transgender Name Change?

The Associated Press is reporting that a transgender man’s request to change his legal name has been rejected by a Georgia Superior Court Judge.  The man, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, wants to change his legal name from Rebeccah Elizabeth Feldhaus to Rowan Elijah Feldhaus.

In rejecting the request, Judge J. David Roper wrote, “The question presented is whether a female has the statutory right to changer her name to a traditionally and obviously male name.  The Court concludes that she does not have such right.”

So would a transgender person’s petition for a change of legal name to reflect their gender identity be granted in Tampa Bay, Greater Sarasota, or elsewhere in Florida?

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Collabortive Professionals Honor Florida Legislators

Two hundred members of the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals (“FACP”) gathered in Tampa to honor Florida legislators and others for their leadership in passing the Collaborative Law Process Act (“CLPA”).  The CLPA, among other things, protects the privacy of families going through divorce.  It creates a statutory privilege (like the attorney-client privilege) that, except under limited circumstances, ensures that what is said during a collaborative divorce process cannot be used against a spouse in court.

In 2016, Senator Tom Lee introduced the CLPA bill in the Florida Senate.  Representative Cyndi Stevenson, with the support of Representative Dana Young, introduced a version in Florida’s House of Representatives.  All three were given awards by Florida’s statewide collaborative organization for helping to protect Florida’s families via the CLPA.

 

 

Pictured, from left to right, are Senator Tom Lee, Cole Jeffries, Robert Merlin, Judge Laurel Lee, Representative Dana Young, and Representative Cyndi Stevenson.

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Can 2 Men or 2 Women Appear on a Florida Birth Certificate?

Florida has not had the best history when it comes to the rights of same-sex couples.  For the longest time, the state had a law on the books that gay men and women were forbidden from adopting a child.  Florida not only enacted a so-called Defense of Marriage Act statute but enshrined its opposition to same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution.  Further, even once Florida courts ruled that the state must recognize marriage between people of the same sex, it was unclear whether the state would permit same-sex divorce.

Fortunately, the state has come a long way.  The “gay adoption ban” is no longer on the books.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a ban on the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is unconstitutional, as is a refusal of one state to recognize a same-sex marriage solemnized in another state.  And it has become clear that circuit courts in Tampa Bay and around the state must give same-sex spouses the opportunity to dissolve their marriage.

So, at this point, can two parents of the same sex appear on a Florida birth certificate?

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2016 Florida Alimony Reform Bill Vetoed

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Florida Governor Rick Scott has vetoed SB 668, a bill that was intended to make large-scale changes to the state’s alimony and child custody laws.

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For the first time, the bill was set to create alimony guidelines that calculated a presumptive range for the amount and length of spousal support.  Further, the bill would have directed judges, when establishing custody schedules, to start out with the premise that each parent should have approximately an equal amount of time with children.

It was that second point that seemed to be the sticking point for Governor Scott.

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Governor Scott Signs Florida Collaborative Divorce Bill Into Law

On March 24, 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed HB 967, the “Collaborative Law Process Act,” making Florida the 14th state to have Collaborative Divorce codified in its laws.

Collaborative Divorce is a private form of dispute resolution where the parties agree from the outset to settle all matters outside of court.  Each party has his or her own attorney, and the attorneys are there solely to help the parties reach an agreement that is tailored for that family.  The attorneys are forbidden from engaging in opposition research or preparing for costly trials.

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Collaborative Law Process Act Protects Families’ Privacy

Last Friday, the Florida Senate passed its version of HB-967, the Collaborative Law Process Act, priming Florida to become the 14th state to pass a version of the Uniform Collaborative Law Act.

The bill, which was voted on in the Florida Senate by 39-0 after passing the Florida House last month by 117-0, is now enrolled and expected to be signed by the governor.  At the earliest, the Collaborative Law Process Act becomes binding on July 1, 2016.  However, it may take longer, as the bill itself states that it will not go into effect until 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court adopts Rules of Procedure and Rules of Professional Responsibility consistent with the bill.  It is my understanding that proposed rules have been provided or will be provided to the Supreme Court.

[Update: On March 24, 2016, Governor Scott Signed the Collaborative Law Process Act]

The Collaborative Law Process Act, which applies to divorce, paternity, and other family law matters, does several things:

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Anti-Gay Language Stripped From Florida Adoption Laws

Up until recently, chapter 63 of the Florida Statutes, which contains the state’s adoption laws, was explicitly anti-gay.  Chapter 63 and adoption case law stated that whether prospective parents could adopt a child should be based on the best interests of the child, with one exception.

LGBT flag

That exception was laid out in Florida Statutes section 63.042(3) (2014), which provided that “No person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual.”

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