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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Florida Encourages Out-of-Court Dispute Resolution

The following is part of an appellate brief that I wrote which outlines how the Florida legislature, the Florida Supreme Court, and the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in and for Tampa encourages the settlement of disputes, especially in family law matters:

Florida strongly encourages out-of court settlement of disputes. See Fla. Stat. § 61.001(2)(b)-(c) (the purposes of Chapter 61, among other things, are “(b) To promote the amicable settlement of disputes that arise between parties to a marriage; and (c) To mitigate the potential harm to the spouses and their children caused by the process of legal dissolution of marriage.”); In re Report of the Family Law Steering Committee, 794 So. 2d 518, 522-523 (Fla. 2001); see, also, Robbie v. City of Miami, 469 So. 2d 1384, 1385 (Fla. 1985) (“[s]ettlements are highly favored and will be enforced whenever possible.”).

In re Report finds, in part, the following:

The Florida Supreme Court should adopt the following guiding principles as a foundation for defining and implementing a model family court:

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3. All persons, whether children or adults, should be treated with objectivity, sensitivity, dignity, and respect.

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2015 Florida Alimony Reform – Proposed Factors for Alimony

In a previous post, I wrote about Florida House Bill 943 and the proposed alimony guidelines contained in the bill.  Florida currently has no guidelines for alimony, and the bill creates formulas which would implement presumptive ranges for the amount and duration of alimony that a judge could order, making awards more predictable.

As an update to my prior post, HB 943 has been amended.  As of the date I am writing this, the years of marriage is multiplied by 1.5%, rather than 1.25%, in the formula to determine the low amount of alimony that a judge could order.  There are likely to be more changes to the bill before the it passes both houses of the Florida legislature and is signed into law (if, indeed, it makes it that far).

So, if the alimony guidelines become official, where in the range of amount and duration of alimony will any particular award fall?  The bill sets out certain factors to help a judge make this decision:

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Florida Alimony Reform 2015 – Florida Alimony Guidelines

Many people are surprised to learn that, currently, Florida has no alimony guidelines.  Rather, it has a bunch of factors that a judge considers, such as lifestyle of the parties, each spouses’ contribution to the marriage, and the age and physical condition of each.  This has left many clients frustrated when they ask their attorneys how much alimony they should expect to pay or receive.

House Bill 943 looks to change this.

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Florida Same-Sex Marriage – Will I Be On My Child’s Birth Certificate?

It has long been the law in Florida that when a child is born during an intact marriage between a man and a woman, the husband shall be placed on the birth certificate.  Generally, this is the case even if the husband is not the biological father of the child; the right of the child to be considered “legitimate” is so strong that it does not matter whether there is an actual genetic connection between the child and the father.

Now that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge and marriage licenses are being provided to same-sex couples, will a hospital put a woman on a birth certificate if her wife gives birth?

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Is Florida’s Gay Adoption Ban Still On The Books?

Most people know that, for a long time, Florida did not permit gay individuals to adopt children.

Florida’s adoption laws were and are mainly based on the best interests of the child.  Even if a prospective adoptive parent were a convicted violent felon, the felony likely would not automatically prevent an adoption from happening; the judge would need to entertain evidence and make a determination about whether, despite the felony, the adoption was in the best interests of the adoptee.

But if a prospective adoptive parent were gay, and the judge knew this fact, there would be no analysis.  A gay person was not permitted under Florida law to adopt a child, regardless of whether it was in the child’s best interest.

However, that all changed in 2010, when Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals published its decision in In re the Adoption of XXG and NRG.

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What is the Purpose of Florida Family Law?

Anyone who has gone through a divorce, paternity, or other family law proceeding in Hillsborough County or elsewhere in Florida may have wondered: What is the purpose of Florida Family Law?

Well, section 61.001(2) purports to have an answer:

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Tampa Same Sex Divorce Case First DOMA Challenge Certified to Florida Supreme Court

Can two women who were married in Massachusetts but now are residents of Florida divorce in Florida?  That is the question that my Tampa client and her wife were looking to have answered in the affirmative.  The trial judge determined that she did not have the power to dissolve a marriage that the State of Florida did not recognize.

When we appealed, we asked a panel of judges to skip the normal appellate process and go straight to the Florida Supreme Court.  Our argument was that this case involves issues of such public importance, and that determining whether married couples of the same sex can divorce affects the administration of justice throughout the state.  Our request for the expedited process was denied.

And then we got word yesterday.  The judges of the Second District Court of Appeals decided en banc (with the input of all of the judges of the Court, excluding a judge who had recused himself) that this case should go straight to the Florida Supreme Court.

Below are portions of the brand new ruling:

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