The Collaborative Law Process Act
The Collaborative Law Process Act was signed into law by Governor Scott on March 24, 2016. The Collaborative Process is an alternative dispute resolution process used primarily in family law cases, although it is commonly used to resolve other types of disputes. The new act states, “It is the policy of this state to encourage the peaceful resolution of disputes and the early resolution of pending litigation through a voluntary settlement process. The collaborative law process is a unique non-adversarial process that preserves a working relationship between the parties and reduces the emotional and financial toll of litigation.”
There are many aspects of the collaborative process that vary greatly from the common progression of litigation. In a collaborative case, each party retains an attorney specifically trained in collaborative law. Depending on the specifics of the case, a mental health professional is commonly brought in to help keep the parties on task and work around the emotional problems that might derail a settlement. A financial advisor might also be retained to help resolve financial issues, such as child support, equitable distribution, and alimony.
While a great amount of litigation takes place in the courtroom, the collaborative process takes pace entirely outside of the judicial system until the parties reach a final agreement. The parties meet together with the collaborative professionals to discuss the issues unique to their case and work through different ways to resolve those issues. The process is privileged, so no participant in a collaborative matter can be forced to testify about anything that happened during the collaborative process, except in emergency situations, such as child endangerment.
While the majority of collaborative cases in Florida begin before a case is filed in court, the Act specifically recognizes that a pending action can be placed on hold so the parties may use the collaborative process to settle without dismissing their pending litigation. This allows parties who may have been litigating for long periods without resolution chose a non-adversarial path. Unlike typical litigation, the Collaborative Act specifically prohibits a judge from ordering a party to participate in the collaborative process over that party’s objection. In the alternative, mediation is required in every family law case before the parties can attend a final hearing. So while a Judge may put a case on hold for the collaborative process, no party may be required to participate without their consent.
The collaborative process is a supportive, private, and often economical way to help families preserve relationships rather than destroy them. It allows the parties to put the best interest of the children first. The Collaborative Process Act is intended to inform the public and all family law professionals that there are alternatives to the often destructive, costly, and time consuming litigation process.