TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court on March 16 released a
new set of rules to simplify the family law processes while
establishing a separate set of rules and procedures for matters
before family court.
Family Law Rules Committee also released several new forms that
were then approved by the members of the full Rules Committee as well
as the Florida Bar Board of Governors.
The justices said that new rules and procedures will lessen the
burdens placed on family court litigants, especially litigants who
serve as their own attorneys.
“The committee also contends that a
stand-alone rule set will be helpful and less confusing for pro se
litigants in that for most issues, they will not have to consult
multiple sets of rules for guidance,” court documents said.
Dr. Gregory Firestone, a Florida Supreme Court-certified mediator
and president of My Florida Mediator who was cited in the ruling,
told the Florida Record the family law rules committee
appeared to be deliberate in drafting their proposed changes to the
rules and procedures regarding family law matters. However, its
proposal removed civil arbitration rules that previously could apply
to family law cases.
Firestone also said that prior to the changes made in March, the
Florida Rules of Civil Procedure regarding arbitration could be
applied to settle certain disputes in family law matters. But the new
changes don’t apply to family law matters and the newly adopted
free-standing Family Law Rules of Procedure have no provisions to
address family law arbitration. Firestone wants to see some aspects
of Florida’s civil-procedure rules for arbitration also be made
part of the new family court law rules and procedures.
“I think there is a place for arbitration especially in some
divorce disputes,” he said. “My recommendation for the court was
that if they didn’t adopt the arbitration rules that were in civil
rules and procedures and bring them over that they consider
appointing a committee to do that.”
“Arbitration of family law cases is achieving greater
recognition nationally as evidenced by the recent adoption of the
Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act by the Uniform Law Commission
(ULC),” he said. “Arbitration can be a valuable additional option
in Florida for resolving family law disputes in a dissolution not
involving children or certain disputes such as equitable distribution
when children are present.”
Firestone said the Florida Legislature should consider adopting
Family Law Arbitration Act while at the same time remove the
restrictions on the use of arbitration of in cases affecting
children. Current Florida law does not allow arbitration in disputes
involving child custody visitation or child support.
Firestone wants to see this change.
“In at least one state, courts have held that parents have a
constitutional right to resolve their custody disputes by
arbitration. In the model ULC act prompting family arbitration, a
state may determine whether to permit arbitration of issues related
to children or not,” he said.
Firestone also said that family law arbitration in certain cases
would also make sense in that arbitration, like mediation, might go a
long way in saving litigant’s time and money.
“In the same way that many businesses find arbitration helpful
as means to control costs, I can’t see why a couple shouldn’t be
allowed to have that option as well,” he said. “I think the court
having some rules to govern the process would be helpful.”
The new rule changes and procedures issued
by the court were effective immediately following the release of the
opinion by the court.