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Collaborative Law Rules at Florida Supreme Court

Collaborative Law Rules Approved by Florida Supreme Court

On May 18, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court published an opinion approving collaborative law rules.  The collaborative law rules are the last step necessary before Florida’s Collaborative Law Process Act goes into effect.

The opinion approves Rule Regulating the Florida Bar 4-1.19 and Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure 12.745.

Rule Regulating the Florida Bar 4-1.19

Florida Bar Rule 4-1.19 is a rule of professional conduct.  It creates certain obligations of attorneys representing clients within the collaborative process.  Among other things, the rule requires collaborative lawyers to do the following when contemplating collaborative practice with a client:

  • Provide sufficient information about the benefits and risks of the collaborative process;
  • Explain alternatives to the collaborative process, including litigation and mediation;

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Collaborative Divorce in Tampa Bay

What Is Next Generation Divorce?

If you have done internet searches for collaborative divorce in Tampa Bay or Greater Sarasota, you have likely come across the website for Next Generation Divorce (you can find the link here).  Next Generation Divorce has many members who are family law attorneys, but it is not a law firm.  It has members who are psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and social workers, but it is not a therapy-related organization.  And it has members who are financial planners and C.P.A.’s, but it is not a financial planning or accounting firm.

Next Generation Divorce

Member of Next Generation Divorce

So what is Next Generation Divorce?

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Collaborative Divorce: Maintaining A Safe Environment

As a collaborative lawyer, it is my obligation to provide a safe environment for my client, the family, and the collaborative team.  This obligation is not only to provide physical safety, but also the safety of the principles of collaborative practice.

Collaborative Divorce Texas (formerly known as the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas), a leading organization in the field of collaborative practice, created Protocols of Practice for Collaborative Lawyers.  Below you will find the Comment to Section 5.06: Safe Environment.

The collaborative lawyer acknowledges that a safe environment necessarily involves the following principles:

1.       Refraining from insistence on acceptance of conditions precedent to entering into the collaborative law process.

2.       Encouraging creative problem-solving and discouraging positional bargaining.

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High Net Worth Divorce in Tampa Bay

As a professional, executive, politician, sports figure, or otherwise high profile individual in Tampa Bay, you have a bigger incentive than most to keep your high net worth divorce amicable and private.  You do not need your dirty laundry aired in the media, and you want to minimize the amount of financial information in the public court file.  Further, you want to protect your kids from a potential circus environment.

Collaborative Divorce for High Net Worth Divorce in Tampa Bay

High Net Worth Divorce in Tampa Bay

For you, there is collaborative divorce.

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Cordover Letter on Collaborative Divorce Published in Tampa Bay Times

In February, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Charlie Crist, former governor of the State of Florida, filed a petition for divorce in which he stated that he anticipated that he and his wife will go through a “collaborative law process.”  On February 27, 2017, the Tampa Bay Times published a letter written by Family Diplomacy attorney Adam B. Cordover explaining what a collaborative divorce is.

You can find the letter reproduced below:

Crist filed for divorce from wife of 8 years Feb. 25

Collaborative divorce: what it is, how it works

On Feb. 24, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, R-St. Petersburg, filed for divorce. In his petition, Crist states that he anticipates that he and his wife will go through a “collaborative law process.” What is a collaborative divorce?

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Collaborative Mediation

What is Collaborative Mediation?

If you are getting divorced, you want to move forward as peacefully, quickly, and cost-effectively as possible.  And so you should learn about collaborative mediation.

Mediation

Collaborative mediation is a combination of two forms of private dispute resolution: mediation and collaborative divorce.  In mediation, you meet face-to-face with your spouse along with a neutral mediator (or co-mediators).  The mediator does not decide issues for you.  Rather, the mediator is there to facilitate an agreement between you and your spouse.

What is said during mediation is private and confidential.  This means that statements or offers made in mediation cannot be used against you later in court.  This confidentiality is protected by the Florida Mediation Confidentiality and Privilege Act (Florida Statutes §§ 44.401-44.406).

Though the mediator can help you and your spouse reach an agreement, he or she cannot provide you with legal advice.  The mediator, for example, cannot tell you if you are making a good or bad deal.

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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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Woody Mosten and Peacemaking Practice Trainers

Video: Woody Mosten Addresses Association for Conflict Resolution

Forrest (Woody) Mosten has been on the cutting edge of the law since the 1970s.  He has been a pioneer in the fields of unbundled legal services, mediation, and collaborative practice, and he has also authored the following books on these topics (you can order them here):

  • The Complete Guide to Mediation: The Cutting-Edge Approach to Family Law Practice (2d Edition, ABA, 2015) (with Elizabeth Scully)
  • Collaborative Divorce Handbook: Effectively Helping Divorcing Families Without Going to Court (Jossey-Bass, 2009)
  • The Mediation Career Guide (Jossey-Bass, 2001)
  • Unbundling Legal Services (ABA, 2000)

In 2011, Woody keynoted at the Association of Conflict Resolution.  You can find the video from part of the speech below:

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Gary Direnfeld on Sole Custody

Video: Do You Really Need “Sole Custody?”

In my Tampa office, parents come to me all of the time and say they want “sole custody.”  Maybe they are having an argument with the other parent.  Maybe they just don’t get along.  So parents figure that the solution is to be the only one to have decision making authority over their child.

In the video below, social worker Gary Direnfeld challenges the assumptions behind requests for sole custody.

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Video: Hiring A Collaborative Divorce Lawyer

In Tampa Bay and Greater Sarasota, you have a lot of choices when determining who should be your divorce lawyer.  You may have already figured out that your best, least destructive path is via collaborative practice, where you and your spouse work together to ensure your kids and finances survive the divorce.  But how do you choose which attorney to hire to represent you in a collaborative divorce?

The video below, from Reel Lawyers, discusses the importance of hiring an attorney who specializes in collaborative practice.

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