Florida Collaborative Divorce Law

There is a buzz around town regarding a new law titled Collaborative Law. So what is it?

It is a new method of divorce in Florida.

Typically, persons desiring to file legal action for divorce or paternity were given these two options. The first was the traditional litigation route. Here, you will meet with an attorney of your choice, share your story, discuss how long you’ve been married, the emotional rollercoaster or marital breakdown and your need for a transition. Your attorney would advise you of your legal rights and interests, as well as your duties and responsibilities for each aspect of your story, pursuant to Florida law Chapters 61, from the date of your marriage to present day. Generally, the attorney will explain the process of obtaining your divorce and guide you with the method to be divorced. On paternity actions, you will discuss your rights and obligations as a parent pursuant to Chapter 742.

Traditionally, documents are drafted and presented to you for approval and signature and are thereafter led with the clerk of courts and forwarded for delivery to your spouse. The matter is adversarial. Eventually, in contested matters, the case is resolved.

The second option your attorney may suggest is an uncontested action route. This is effective when you and your spouse have already begun the resolution process and have reached agreement on many or most issues of your case. Your attorney will prepare preliminary documents, such as a petition and a proposed marital settlement agreement and/or proposed parenting plan and forward to your spouse for review and if agreed, your case is resolved. The expense and frustration is minimized. This is only effective if the parties completely agree. If one or both parties are hesitant, unsure, emotional, or angry, this approach is ineffective.

Collaborative divorce, on the other hand, offers parties a revolutionary alternative. It provides a completely different experience. Collaborative law is de ned as a unique non-adversarial process that preserves a working relationship between the parties and reduces the emotional and financial toll of litigation. With Collaborative law, the parties are each represented by collaboratively trained attorneys. There are also two other professionals involved in the process who specialize in financial analysis and mental health. The parties, their respective counsel and neutrals will meet together to discuss and resolve the different aspects of the case in writing. All meetings are conducted prior to any court filings. The parties are em- powered with the vast knowledge of their attorneys, and professionals to reach their desired outcomes.

The financial specialist will review financial records from both parties, analyze the incomes and financial positions of each party after the divorce and present reasonable options to the parties and their attorneys. The parties and their attorneys will review and determine their best interest and scenario and enter into written agreements. The parties and their attorneys will also meet with the mental health professional for child related issues and assist with with the development of a written agreement and parenting plan. The mental health professional will help ease the emotional tension or any obstacles that may exist be- tween the parties.

With the assistance of neutral professionals, the stress and emotional frustrations of divorce are addressed head on and minimized. Similar to the uncontested route, once all agreements are complete, the necessary documents are led with the clerk of courts and one of the attorneys will request a final hearing. The parties reach their desired outcomes with less emotional trauma, and at a lower financial cost, than with a traditional contested divorce. In a collaborative divorce case, the parties and the professionals  work together to resolve the matter completely. The drawback: in the unfortunate event that negotiations fail and the case cannot be resolved, the matter must be traditionally litigated in court. The parties must choose new counsel to represent them and begin the divorce process from the beginning as described above.

So, when you sit with your family law attorney to discuss your legal options, be certain to explore all effective methods available to you in order to obtain the best result for you and your family. If you choose the collaborative route, make sure both attorneys are trained in collaborative law. For more information regarding collaborative law, visit www.choosecollaborative.com and www.collaborativepracticeflorida.com.

Sheena Benjamin-Wise is the managing partner for Benjamin-Wise Creary, PLLC, a law firm with a unique perspective on client services. Ms. Benjamin-Wise has provided quality legal services in the area of Marital and Family Law for the past 15 years in South Florida. Ms. Benjamin-Wise focuses primarily in the areas of divorce, parental rights, paternity, division of marital and non-martial assets and liabilities, establishment/defense alimony, and the establishment child support. Phone: 954- 783-9737. www.wiselawoffice.com