Governor Signs a New Law that Will Give Divorcing Couples an Alternative to Court

When many people think about divorce, they usually conjure up a process that is full of animosity and disagreement, with both sides unwilling to concede an inch towards resolution. While there are certainly some divorces that meet this stereotypical image, more and more divorcing couples, especially those part of Generation X, are trying to end their relationships as amicably as possible so they can continue to co-parent their children in safe and supportive environment. This shift towards a less contentious approach to divorce is also reflected by the fact that many states, Florida included, allow courts to order couples into mediation to work out contested issues. In keeping with this vein of encouraging civil divorces, a new law, the Collaborative Law Process Act, was recently enacted and establishes a collaborative law process for divorces and determinations of parentage in this state. Collaborative divorces require a couple, through work with attorneys specially trained in collaborative law, to form an agreement on all aspects of a divorce without court intervention. The law will go into effect on July 1.

What Is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative law relates to the voluntary process of reaching an amicable agreement in divorce cases without the threat of litigation and with the goal of doing what is best for the divorcing couple and their children. Each party signs a contract agreeing to complete the collaborative law process in lieu of traditional litigation and to exclude their attorneys from representing them in adversarial legal actions in the future. In addition to attorneys, there may also be specialists in finances, mental health and child custody issues to help facilitate a mutually beneficial agreement between the couple. The benefits to this option are that the parties have complete control over the outcome, and it is much more cost effective.

Collaborative Law Process Act

The stated purpose of this law is to encourage the peaceful and early resolution of potential litigation in divorce, child custody, paternity and parentage matters in such a way that the parties can preserve their relationship and lessen the emotional and financial toll of the process.

The process begins when the parties enter into collaborative law participation agreement, regardless of whether there is pending litigation of the issues. In addition, a court cannot order a party to participate in this process without his/her consent. The collaborative law process is considered concluded if the any of the following occur:

  • the matter is resolved, which is indicated by a signed document;
  • some matters are resolved and the parties agree to resolve the remaining issues through another process; or
  • the collaborative process is terminated.

Both parties can halt this process with or without cause, and if either party initiates legal action in a forum that allows a third party to make decisions about the contested matters (i.e., a court or arbitrator), the collaborative law process is terminated.

Generally, all communications related to the collaborative law process are confidential and privileged to the extent the parties agree. This information cannot be used as evidence or disclosed through the information gathering process, called discovery, in other litigation. Exceptions to the confidential and privileged status of this information apply if it relates to a person’s safety, are evidence of criminal activity, shows abuse and abandonment of a child or adult, and in other more limited circumstances.

Talk to a Family Law Attorney

Deciding which process is the best choice to resolve your family law case is an important decision that should be made after consulting with an attorney. Some dispute resolution options require the parties to forego certain benefits and protections, which should be considered before a particular process is chosen. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. have years of experience in family law matters and can advise you on the best avenue to resolve your dispute. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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