“They call it Collaborative Divorce.It’s apparently all the rage right now.”Jason Bateman’s character spoke these lines in the 2007 hit Juno, and now the practice isofficially becoming sanctioned inFlorida.

On March 4, 2016, the Florida legislature passed HB-967, the “Collaborative Law Process Act,” which seeks to facilitate the out-of-court settlement of divorce, paternity, and other family law cases.Florida follows 13 other states and the District of Columbia in passing a collaborative law bill.

“When couples litigate child-related issues, they cease being parents first and instead become adversaries,” says Judge Catherine M. Catlin, a domestic relations judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County.Prior to being elected to the bench, Judge Catlin practiced as a family law attorney.“Even the most amicable of divorces can leave lasting scars if it ends up at trial.Rather than having a stranger on the bench order what is to be done, spouses and parents are in the best position to resolve their disputes and reach an outcome that both parties can accept.Collaborative practice is an excellent tool for couples finding themselves heading to court.”

Collaborative practice, also known as collaborative divorce, collaborative law, or the collaborative process, is a unique form of dispute resolution in which the clients and their attorneys agree that all money, time, and energy is spent on helping the parties reach an agreement rather than fighting in court.In fact, the parties sign a contract, the Collaborative Participation Agreement, which states that the attorneys can only be used to reach an out-of-court settlement and cannot be used to fight one another in divorce court battles.

“The collaborative process creates a safe space for the clients and lets them know that we attorneys will not engage in opposition research or pit-bull tactics, but rather we will do what we are good at: resolve disputes,” explains attorney Derek Lucas of Carrollwood.Mr. Lucas isco-chair of Next Generation Divorce (“NGD”), Florida’s largest collaborative practice group with professionals serving Greater Sarasota and Tampa Bay.“We are encouraged that our political leaders recognize the importance of having an option available for families to avoid the painful and adversarial experience of litigation.Sometimes divorce is unavoidable.Having a way to divorce without destroying the family is vital and we are happy to see that our lawmakers understand this fact.”

Collaborative practice also recognizes that divorce is not just a legal matter, but it is also a financial matter and especially an emotional matter.That is why a neutral facilitator, generally with a mental health licensure, is retained in most cases to help families focus on the future and what is most import to them (i.e., their children) rather than argue over the fights of the past.A neutral financial professional, usually either a financial planner or accountant, is also oftentimes utilized to help parties make better decisions for their short and long-term financial futures.

“Our group of collaborative professionals is ready, willing, able, and eager to help families across the Tampa Bay and Greater Sarasota areas avoid the emotionally and financially destructive nature of litigation and choose a better path forward for their family,” asserts Marie-Eve Girard, an accountant from Tampa andMr. Lucas’ fellow NGD co-chair.“NGD is not a law firm, but it is a network of attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals dedicated to educating the public about the collaborative option.”

“The cost of divorce is much more than financial,” elaborates Dr. Garin Vick, a psychologist out of Brandon, NGD Board Member, and host of the Divorce Without Destruction podcast.“The exposure of children to ongoing conflict between their parents negatively impacts their psychological well-being more than any other aspect of divorce.The collaborative divorce process is a healthier and more effective way to dissolve a marriage.”

The Collaborative Law Process Act is seen by local family law professionals as a way to boost the appeal of the collaborative process.“This action by the legislature helps ensure that a family’s toughest moments can remain private,” says Tampa attorney Adam B. Cordover, Immediate Past President of Next Generation Divorce and author of an upcoming American Bar Association book on Building A Collaborative Law Practice.“It creates a statutory privilege, similar to the attorney-client privilege, that, except in limited circumstances, prevents communications and negotiations during the process from ever being used against a spouse in court.”

The bill is expected to be signed by Governor Rick Scott.The Florida Supreme Court will then develop rules of procedure and rules of professional conduct governing collaborative law.

More information on collaborative family law practice can be obtained from Next Generation Divorce’s website at http://NextGenerationDivorce.com.