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2016 Collaborative Law Process Act Making Progress in Florida Legislature

Senate Bill 972, the “Collaborative Law Process Act,” is making its way through the Florida Senate and will hopefully become law this summer.

[UPDATE 2: Governor Scott signed the Collaborative Law Process Act on 3/24/16]

[UPDATE: The Collaborative Law Process Act Passed the Florida Legislature on 3/4/16.  Learn more about it in the following Article: Collaborative Law Process Act Protects Families’ Privacy]

The Collaborative Law Process Act creates a legal framework for families to resolve disputes outside of court.  The bill specifies that family law matters under chapters 61 or 742 of the Florida Statutes may be resolved via the collaborative process.  These family law matters include the following:

  • Divorce;
  • Alimony and child support;
  • Marital property and debt distribution;
  • Child custody and visitation (also known as time-sharing and parental responsibility);
  • Parental relocation with a child;
  • Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements; and
  • Paternity.

Families in Tampa Bay, Greater Sarasota, and throughout the state of Florida are already utilizing the collaborative process to resolve divorce and other matters privately and respectfully, but a big improvement with this bill is that there will be a statutory framework to ensure discussions had in the collaborative process can be enforced as confidential.   Read more

Sample Christmas Custody Schedules

If you are divorcing in Tampa Bay and you have children, Florida law requires that a parenting plan be created.  The parenting plan outlines parental responsibility (decision-making authority) along with a time-sharing (custody) schedule.

The time-sharing schedule should not only address where the children stay during the school year and in summer months, but also how holidays, such as Christmas, are to be handled.

Below are some sample Christmas time-sharing schedules:

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Video: General’s Daughter Discusses Her Peaceful Divorce

Cynthia Schwarzkopf, daughter of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr, discusses how she and her husband utilized the collaborative family law process to dissolve her marriage in a video released by the Tampa Bay Collaborative Divorce Group.

You can see the video below the jump:

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Freezing High Conflict Divorce Litigation for the Collaborative Process

I strongly suggest that any person who is in the initial stages of a Florida divorce consider engaging in the collaborative process from the very beginning.  This simply means that each spouses hires an attorney solely for the purpose of helping them reach a divorce agreement.

The attorneys are contractually prohibited from wasting time and money on preparing for trial (90% or so of all divorce cases settle, yet millions and millions of dollars are spent each year preparing for a trial that rarely happens).  Discussions are held in a private, respectful, and transparent atmosphere, and other professionals are brought in as needed to tend to the parties’ financial and emotional needs.

But some clients are resistant to the collaborative process because of perceived cost issues or they feel they need to have a gunslinger to take out their spouse.  And many attorneys will not engage in the collaborative process because litigation work is pretty profitable or they have not invested the time and money in taking an introductory collaborative training.

And so there are plenty of divorce battles going on in the Florida court system.  It is not uncommon for those battles to go on for two, three, four, or more years, and for the parties to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, deposition fees, document production fees, forensic evaluation fees, court reporter fees, and so on, and feel no closer to a final resolution of their divorce.

But there is something that can be done to change the dynamics.

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Florida Collaborative Divorce: A Flowchart

Many people come to my Tampa office because they heard collaborative divorce is private, respectful, conducive to co-parenting, and usually quicker than the traditional courtroom divorce.  But they do not quite understand logistically how the collaborative process works.

The first thing to understand is that each party is represented by his or her own attorney whose sole purpose is to help the parties reach a settlement.  The attorneys are contractually barred from engaging in costly, damaging contested court battles.  If parties want to fight one another in the court system, they must choose different litigation attorneys.

A neutral facilitator, who usually is licensed in a mental health profession, is involved in most collaborative cases.  The facilitator not only helps the parties (and attorneys) focus on the future rather than rehash the arguments of the past, but he or she also teaches the parties communication and dispute resolution techniques that will help them and their families long after the divorce is finalized.

A neutral financial professional is also oftentimes used to efficiently ensure financial transparency between the parties, to develop personally-tailored options for support and the division of assets and debts, and to help the clients budget to give them the best chance for financial security once their divorce is finalized.

Some folks are visual learners, and so my firm has created a flowchart that shows how a collaborative case might proceed.  Please understand that, depending on the facts of your case and the needs of your family, your collaborative divorce process may be customized differently:

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Will a Florida Judge Order a Doggy Custody Schedule?

When two people are getting divorced in Florida, and they have one or more minor children, a custody schedule (now known in Florida as a time-sharing schedule)  must be established.  Approximately 90-95% of all cases settle at some point (whether it is before the filing of a petition for divorce or after spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing for or even going through trial), and so the parties generally end up agreeing to a child time-sharing schedule.  But in those times where they do not agree, a Florida family law judge will take the decision out of the hands of the parents and set a time-sharing schedule.

But divorce doesn’t only affect the children.  It also affects the family pets.  So will a Florida judge order a doggy (or kitty) custody schedule?

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“Next Generation Divorce” Takes On A New Meaning At St. Pete Pride

Last Sunday, I met a lot of people who had a lot of questions regarding their parental and family law rights.  My law firm sponsored a booth at the St. Pete Pride festival in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I discussed topics such as adoptions, name changes, and LGBT child custody rights.  I also had the chance to talk about collaborative family law, a private form of dispute resolution which I have used to help same sex partners amicably separate.

20140706-153645-56205458.jpgAt the pride festival, I was wearing a metal name tag that I received from my collaborative family law practice group, Next Generation Divorce.  Next Generation Divorce is comprised of over 100 caring attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals dedicated to helping parents and divorcing spouses handle difficult issues amicably and with their dignity intact.  I happen to be Next Generation Divorce’s current president and, needless to say, I strongly support the organization’s drive to help folks resolve disputes respectfully through the collaborative process.

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What Your Florida Divorce Lawyer May Not Be Telling You

The vast majority of divorce attorneys in Tampa Bay and around Florida are good, hardworking people with their clients’ best interests always at mind.  However, there is one divorce option that more and more financial and mental health professionals agree is the best way to handle a family law matter, and yet many attorneys will not tell their clients about it:  collaborative divorce.

Collaborative divorce is a private form of dispute resolution where each spouse hires their own attorney only for the purposes of helping to negotiate a marital settlement agreement. Collaborative attorneys are contractually prohibited from going to trial or bringing any contested issues to be decided by a judge.

Trial Divorce = Big $$ for Attorneys

This is one reason why there are a lot of divorce trial lawyers who are against collaborative divorce:  attorneys make a lot of money billing time for trial-related activities such as depositions, interrogatories, witness preparation, exhibit analysis and selection, and trial itself.  Trial attorneys bill this time even though they know that 95% of all divorce cases end in settlement, even sometimes after trial but right before a judge issues a ruling.   Read more

Sample Florida Child Custody Schedules

In each Florida family law case (such as divorce or paternity) that involves the custody of a child, Florida law requires that a parenting plan be established.  One of the most important elements of a parenting plan is the child custody schedule, now known as a “time-sharing” schedule.

Family Law Tip:  You should never let a judge decide your child’s time-sharing schedule.  A judge does not know your family dynamics and bases such decisions on very limited information, and usually the judge is seeing parents, especially divorcing parents, at the worst time in their lives.  Instead, you and your co-parent should use a private form of dispute resolution, such as collaborative family law.

As I tell clients who come to my Tampa office, there are many different types of time-sharing schedules.  Below are some samples provided by the 12th Judicial Circuit (which includes Sarasota and Manatee Counties).  The parent who is listed in a box is the one whom the child will be staying with overnight:

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Texas Judge Rules Denial of Same Sex Divorce Unconstitutional

In a case with many similarities to the Florida same sex divorce matter being deliberated here in Tampa, a district judge in Texas has ruled that, despite that state’s same sex marriage ban, two women should be permitted to divorce.  In fact, according to the Daily Kos, the Texas judge ruled that their Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and so this divorce case should proceed like any other divorce:

Judge Barbara Nellermoe, in a five-page ruling released Tuesday, pinpointed three portions of the Texas Family Code as unconstitutional, as well as Section 32 of the Texas Constitution. Nellermoe wrote that “in a well-reasoned opinion by Judge Orlando Garcia, the federal district court found that a state cannot do what the federal government cannot – that is, it cannot discriminate against same-sex couples.”

The trial judge found that the state had no rational basis to deny recognition of same sex married couples.  Judge Nellermoe also found that “Texas’ denial of recognition of the parties’ out-of-state same-sex marriage violates equal protection and due process rights when Texas does afford full faith and credit to opposite-sex marriages celebrated in other states.”

According to the Austin Statesman, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot subsequently responded by asking the 4th Court of Appeals to stay, or pause, Judge Nellermoe’s proceedings, and the appellate court granted that request.  This does not mean that the appellate court will reverse Judge Nellermoe’s ruling; it just means that it will hear arguments, set for May 5, and make a determination later.

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