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.
The 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 the ULC 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.