Collaborative law has been around for some time, but Governor Scott recently, and finally, signed into law, the Collaborative Law Process Act.
The law allows judges to recognize and protect a couple’s agreement to participate in a collaborative divorce.
For those who are not familiar with the concept, collaborative divorce is an out of court approach to divorce and other family law matters. During the process, each spouse will retain their own legal counsel and meet with other members of the collaborative team, which may include mental health professionals, financial professionals, and mediators. Through meetings with these professionals, the parties work to negotiate, in good faith, a settlement. The collaborative process, and the negotiations are confidential. The parties also agree that they will not go to court and will not use threats of going to court. No motions are filed or argued in court while the collaborative divorce is pending, nor do the parties engage in formal “discovery.” Instead, the parties and their lawyers meet in a non-adversarial and confidential setting. The parties are encouraged, but not forced, to settle. If the parties cannot agree to some or all of the issues, their lawyers will withdraw and the parties can retain lawyers to represent them in further proceedings.
Collaborative divorce has many benefits. It allows couples to retain more control over the process and is a less expensive and less stressful means of separating. In a traditional divorce, litigants’ often have little or no control over legal bills once the litigation template becomes the engine of their divorce. Litigants are unable to control the time that their lawyers spend waiting in court to be heard, the volume and length of correspondence exchanged between counsel, or the extensive pretrial discovery, required by the court. Collaborative divorce eliminates those costs. As a result, parties generally spend about one-third of the amount of fees they would have spent in a traditional litigated divorce. And, since they are not forced to do battle with each other, the parties have a better chance of ending their relationship on a less sour note, and are better able to co-parent with one another.
Collaborative divorce has been practiced in Florida for over a decade. But, because there was no law and no regulation, lawyers could hold themselves out as collaborative lawyers without experience, and there were no uniform rules for the process. This was of concern to me as there was no means to ensure that the parties and their lawyers followed the process. The Collaborative Law Practice Act gives more security to couples who choose to enter into this process by creating a uniform system for collaborative family law matters. As a practicing collaborative family law attorney, who has taken extensive training and handled numerous successful collaborative matters, I am encouraged that there is now a law that makes the process more uniform. Collaborative family law is an excellent alternative for those who want a more cost-effective and less emotionally damaging divorce.