by Robert Joseph Merlin
On May 18, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion in which it adopted rules of procedure and professional conduct with respect to the collaborative process1 to accompany the Florida Collaborative Law Process Act.2 The act and the rules became effective as of July 1, 2017. This article explains the rules, how the act and rules will affect the practice of family law in Florida, and contains suggestions of how we can better serve the citizens of Florida.
The Collaborative Law Process Act statutorily recognized the collaborative process in matters within the purview of F.S. Chs. 61 and 742 — generally, divorce and paternity actions. The enabling language of the act provided that it would go into effect 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court adopted rules of procedure and professional conduct consistent with the act.3 Both the act and the rules are based upon the Uniform Collaborative Law Act and Rules (UCLA) that were adopted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (Uniform Laws Commission).4
The rules should be read and understood in the context of the public policy in Florida, as stated in F.S. §61.55. In that statute, the Florida Legislature, as approved by the governor, stated:
“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 nonadversarial process that preserves a working relationship between the parties and reduces the emotional and financial toll of litigation.”5
Collaborative Rule of Procedure 12.745
Being an out-of-court dispute resolution method, one may think that having rules of procedure would be inconsistent with the philosophy of the process and would not be necessary. Prior to the adoption of the procedural rule, collaborative professionals regulated themselves through a contract, known as a participation agreement. That contract sets forth how the parties and professionals will act throughout the collaborative process and thereafter. The procedural rule was adopted to create a uniformity of practice throughout Florida when the collaborative process is used in family matters that result in an action being filed in court.6
Rule 12.745 of the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure was created to address the following three situations: 1) what to do if a couple chooses to use the collaborative process while a divorce or paternity action is pending in court; 2) what to do after the family matter is resolved; and 3) what to do if the family matter is not resolved using the collaborative process.
Rule 12.745 governs all matters that fall within F.S. Ch. 61, Part III, which is the Collaborative Law Process Act. F.S. §61.56(5) defines a “collaborative matter” as “a dispute, a transaction, a claim, a problem, or an issue of resolution, including a dispute, a claim, or an issue in a proceeding, which is described in a collaborative law participation agreement and arises under [Ch.] 61 or [Ch.] 742....”
Although the vast majority of collaborative matters begin before anything is filed in court, Rule 12.745(b)(1) recognizes that the collaborative process begins, “regardless of whether a legal proceeding is pending,” when the parties sign a collaborative law participation agreement. F.S. §61.56(3) defines a collaborative law participation agreement as “an agreement between persons to participate in a collaborative law process.” As explained in more detail below, new Rul. Reg. Fla. Bar 4-1.19 requires that the agreement be in writing.
Typically, the collaborative process begins with a client choosing, with his or her attorney, to use that process to resolve a family dispute. While it is possible for the client’s initial contact to be with a mental-health professional or a financial professional, the initial gatekeeper is usually an attorney. The other party and his or her attorney must also choose to use the collaborative process, because each party must be represented by an independent attorney.7
Nothing stops a couple from changing processes during pending litigation by staying the litigation to utilize the collaborative process to resolve their differences.8 The rule provides that if the parties choose to use the collaborative process while an action is pending in court, they are to promptly notify the court of that decision after the participation agreement is signed. That notification serves as an application for a stay of the proceeding, but note that the pending matter is not automatically stayed under the rule. The best practice is for the parties’ attorneys to file a joint motion for a stay of the court proceedings. It is suggested that an agreed order be submitted to the court staying the pending proceeding for between 90 and 120 days, but the attorneys should contact the judge’s office to find out whether to schedule a hearing on the motion for stay. If the judge requires a hearing on the request for a stay, the attorneys and parties may want to appear together for the hearing so the judge can see that everyone is serious about resolving everything through the collaborative process. The attorneys should discuss with the judge whether status reports should be filed and, if so, how often. There should also be an understanding of how long the matter will be initially stayed and whether there should be periodic status conferences.
The rule specifically empowers the judge to require the parties and the attorneys to provide periodic reports on the status of the collaborative matter, but the status report can only indicate whether the process is ongoing or concluded. The status report may not include a report, assessment, recommendation, finding, or other communication regarding the collaborative matter. The court is specifically prohibited from considering a communication that is made in violation of the rule. The judge may consider dismissing the pending family matter because of delay or failure to prosecute, but not without providing notice to the parties and an opportunity to be heard in opposition of the dismissal.
The rule provides how the collaborative process is concluded or terminated. A collaborative matter is concluded by the parties signing a written settlement agreement resolving all or some of the disputed issues. If some of the issues are not resolved, there should be a provision in the written settlement agreement that the balance of the issues will not be resolved using the collaborative process. While not specifically stated in the rule, it is implied that the unresolved issues will either be submitted to a court for resolution, or the parties will theoretically live without resolving the remaining issues, at least temporarily.
A party may unilaterally terminate the process for any reason, with or without cause and at any time, by giving written notice of that decision to the other parties. The process can also be terminated by a party beginning a contested proceeding in court of the subject of the collaborative process, without the consent of the other parties. If an action is already pending, a party can terminate the collaborative process by initiating action in the pending litigation. Such acts automatically terminate the collaborative process and, thus, the attorneys’ representations of the parties. If an attorney is discharged by the client or withdraws from representing a client in the collaborative process, the process will terminate unless that client retains another attorney within 30 days of the discharge or termination, in which case the parties must agree in writing to continue using the collaborative process, they must reaffirm the participation agreement, the agreement must be amended to identify the new attorney and the new attorney must sign the agreement.
If the collaborative process is terminated while an action is pending, the party who terminated the process must promptly notify the court in writing of the termination, which automatically lifts the stay of the proceeding when the notice is filed. The notice filed by the terminating party with the court cannot specify a reason for the termination of the process.
A collaborative attorney who is discharged by the client or who chooses to withdraw from representing the client is required to give written notice of the discharge or withdrawal to all of the other parties. If a matter was pending in court before the collaborative process began, the attorney must comply with the requirements of Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.505.9
Typically, the parties in the collaborative process sign partial agreements as they resolve issues. The collaborative process will not be terminated by a party asking a court to ratify a partial agreement, with the consent of the other party, even if the process continues thereafter. This could happen, for instance, if a qualified domestic relations order needs to be entered to distribute an interest in a qualified retirement plan before the entire matter is resolved.
The rule specifically provides that other dispute resolution methods are not precluded simply because the parties have chosen to use the collaborative process. This would most often apply if the parties and collaborative professionals choose to bring in a mediator to help the parties negotiate a settlement.
The drafters of the UCLA wanted to preserve a party’s ability to seek emergency relief in court if that becomes necessary during a pending collaborative matter. Therefore, the rule provides that a court can issue emergency orders to protect the health, safety, welfare, or interest of a party or a family or household member of a party as defined in F.S. §741.28.10
The essence of the collaborative process, the disqualification of the attorneys from representing their client in contested litigation against another party in a matter related to the subject of the collaborative process, is contained in Rule 12.745(f). Unless an identified exception exists, each attorney is disqualified from ever representing the client against another party to the collaborative process in contested litigation over the subject of the process. The disqualification applies to the firms with which the attorneys are associated, except to become a successor attorney as provided in subsection (b)(3) of the rule or to obtain a court order ratifying an interim agreement, as provided in subsection (c) of the rule. A collaborative attorney is permitted to represent the client in court to obtain an order ratifying an agreement that has resulted from the collaborative process or to seek or defend an emergency order to protect the health, safety, welfare, or interest of a party or a family member or household member, as defined in F.S. §741.28, if a successor attorney is not immediately available to represent the client, or family or household member. Such representation can only continue until the party or family or household member is represented by a successor attorney or reasonable measures are taken to protect the health, safety, welfare, or interest of that person. Again, this is to ensure that a client in the collaborative process and their family or household members can have ready access to legal representation in limited circumstances. This could potentially happen, for instance, if a party in the collaborative process learns that the other party is about to remove a child from the local jurisdiction, although such conduct is extremely unlikely when the collaborative process is used.
Rule 4-1.19 of The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct
A portion of the UCLA was adopted in Florida in the form of a rule of professional conduct because there are certain things that a collaborative attorney must do when using the collaborative process regardless of whether an action is pending in court.11 Unfortunately, there have been numerous attorneys in Florida who have held themselves out to the public as providing the collaborative process without even knowing how to use that process.12 The Florida Bar, in part, exists to protect the public.13 It was, therefore, logical for the Bar to propose a collaborative rule of professional conduct to the Florida Supreme Court. All attorneys are now charged with the responsibility of complying with Rule 4-1.19 when representing a client in the collaborative process.14
Rule 4-1.19(a) requires an attorney to obtain informed consent from a client before representing the client in the collaborative process. Attorneys are already charged with the responsibility of ensuring their clients make decisions based upon informed consent,15 but no other rule in The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct contains the specific requirements of this rule. The attorney must ensure that the client makes an informed decision about using the collaborative process. To do that, the attorney must, at a minimum, discuss a number of specific issues with the client before the attorney begins representing the client in the collaborative process. There are no guidelines contained in the rule setting forth how an attorney should discuss the issues with the client, so each attorney should do what he or she feels is appropriate under the specific circumstances before representing a client in a family matter. At a minimum, the following issues should be discussed with each client before a collaborative participation agreement is signed:
1) The benefits and risks of using the collaborative process to resolve a family matter. Absent some level or training in the collaborative process, an attorney may not be qualified to discuss this issue. An attorney may be required to decline to represent a client in a particular matter if the attorney is not qualified to represent the client in that matter.16 Before representing clients using the collaborative process, it is highly recommended that attorneys attend an introductory interdisciplinary training.17
2) The nature and scope of the matter to be resolved through the collaborative process. The attorney should discuss what issues the client wants to resolve using the process and there should be a clear understanding between the attorney and the client of what issues will be the subject of the collaborative process. An attorney could be retained to use the collaborative process for a limited purpose18 or to resolve all issues in the family matter.
3) The material benefits and risks of participating in the collaborative process. The risk of the collaborative process being terminated by either side should be discussed with the client, at a minimum.19 The benefits to be discussed with the client can be related, for instance, to the relative cost of the process, the difficulty in obtaining court hearings, the privacy of the process, and the self-determination of the collaborative process, among other benefits.
4) Alternatives to the collaborative process. Although many attorneys do not discuss with their clients the alternatives to traditional litigation, it is not possible for a client to make an informed decision about how to handle a matter without knowing all of the alternatives. The Uniform Laws Commission, with the approval of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, included this provision in the UCLA. This is consistent with the general principle in the collaborative process that every participant should be transparent, including the attorneys.
5) That the collaborative process is voluntary, and any client may unilaterally terminate the process at any time. No client should be coerced into using a particular process to handle a family matter. Therefore, participation in the collaborative process is voluntary. It is also important for the clients to understand that another party can terminate the process at any time, although that is not a common occurrence.
6) That the collaborative process will terminate if a party initiates a court process or seeks judicial intervention in a pending matter. If a party seeks to involve the court, the collaborative process will be terminated automatically.
7) Limitations on the attorney’s participation in subsequent proceedings imposed by family law court rules on the collaborative process. This refers to Fla. Fam. L. Rul. P. 12.745(f) on the disqualification of collaborative attorneys. The collaborative process is a type of unbundled legal services, consistent with Rul. Reg. Fla. Bar 4-1.2. The client must understand that the attorney will not represent the client in contested litigation against another party in the collaborative process on a matter that was the subject of the collaborative process. This disqualification has no time limitation, which means that it applies, for instance, to litigation that results from a collaborative matter being terminated as well as enforcement and modification actions sought years after the collaborative matter was resolved.
8) The fees and costs the client can reasonably expect to incur in the collaborative process, including the fees for all of the collaborative professionals. This is a provision that was not included in the UCLA, but was added by the Florida Supreme Court. The rule that was originally submitted to the court for adoption did not include this provision.20 During oral arguments on February 9, 2017, the court expressed concern about the cost of the collaborative process. After oral arguments, the court directed The Florida Bar to propose an amendment to the proposed rule of conduct to require collaborative attorneys to discuss the costs of the process with a prospective collaborative client. When talking to a prospective client, it is impossible for an attorney to discuss expected costs of the collaborative process with any certainty because the attorney does not know many relevant subjects, such as which other professionals will be involved in the process and what their billing rates will be, how cooperative the parties will be with each other, and the professionals, and what the disputed issues will be. It is, therefore, anticipated that the attorney will have a general discussion with a prospective client about such things as how the professionals’ fees will be billed, the range of hourly rates that professionals in the community typically charge, how much time the professionals can generally be expected to spend in the process and the effect that a lack of cooperation from either client would have on the cost of the process.21
The rule requires that a written agreement be signed by the clients and the participating lawyers. This refers to the participation agreement mentioned above. The rule requires that the agreement contain the following minimum provisions: 1) specifically provide that the parties intend to resolve a matter using the collaborative process under the rules; 2) a description of the nature and scope of the matter; 3) an identification of the lawyers and which client each attorney represents; 4) that the clients will make timely, full, candid, and informal disclosure of information related to the collaborative matter without formal discovery, and that the clients will promptly update previously disclosed information that has materially changed; 5) that participation in the collaborative process is voluntary and that any client may unilaterally terminate the process for any reason; 6) that the collaborative process will terminate if one of the clients initiates a legal proceeding or seeks judicial intervention in a pending proceeding after the collaborative process has begun; and 7) that the clients understand that the collaborative lawyers may not represent the clients or anyone else before a court in a proceeding related to the collaborative matter, except as provided by court rule.
The most interesting, and possibly the farthest-reaching provision of the rule is the ongoing duty of the lawyers to screen for a history of coercive or violent behavior between the parties. Each collaborative lawyer is required to reasonably inquire initially and throughout the collaborative process about whether there is a history of coercive or violent behavior between the parties to a collaborative matter. This must be done before an attorney agrees to represent a client in the collaborative process and reasonable efforts must be made to screen for such behavior throughout the collaborative matter. A lawyer may not represent a client and must terminate the representation of a client during a collaborative matter if the lawyer reasonably believes that such a relationship exists or has existed between the parties, unless the client requests that the process begin or continue (if it already started) and if the lawyer reasonably believes that the safety of the client can be protected during the process.
This sets a much higher standard of practice for collaborative attorneys than is applied to any other attorneys in Florida. When the Uniform Laws Commission was working on the UCLA, they reviewed articles and research of experts in the domestic violence field who were concerned about the collaborative process being imposed on a victim of domestic violence.22 The Uniform Laws Commission worked with domestic violence experts to create language that would permit a screening process to be used while still enabling a victim of domestic violence to voluntarily choose to use the collaborative process. Collaborative attorneys have embraced this higher ethical standard because of their interest in providing an alternative to traditional litigation to as many families as possible and the desire to provide a potentially better process to domestic violence victims than litigation alone.
Historically, many domestic violence experts have taken the position that the only way to handle a family matter when there is a history of domestic violence is through traditional litigation.23 The belief was that a victim of domestic violence was not capable of negotiating a settlement with a perpetrator because of the imbalance of power that exists in the relationship. There is now a national trend among domestic violence experts to approve the use of mediation and the collaborative process in appropriate circumstances, thereby empowering the victim to choose which dispute resolution method to use, rather than the victim being forced to only litigate. In fact, screening tools for mediating family matters when there is a history of domestic violence have been created in Michigan24 and New Hampshire,25 for instance.
The collaborative process may be the most unique and best dispute resolution method to use when there is a history of coercive or violent behavior because of the common use of a mental-health professional in the collaborative process. Although there is no legal requirement to use a mental-health professional as a facilitator and/or a child specialist in the collaborative process, a very significant number of collaborative matters utilize such a professional. In Florida, a mental-health professional is typically used as a neutral facilitator in the process. That professional brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the settlement negotiating process, including knowledge of family dynamics and abusive relationships. If there is a history of coercive or violent behavior between the clients, the facilitator can help the attorneys and the clients create a safe environment for appropriate settlement negotiations and help the clients get outside therapy and support.
It is interesting to note that the rule does not distinguish between a victim or a perpetrator of domestic violence. This places a responsibility on both attorneys to address the existence of such conduct, regardless of which client each attorney represents. Through the collaborative process, it is possible for the team of professionals to help the clients address the underlying issues behind the abusive or coercive behavior.
If an attorney reasonably believes there is a history of coercive or violent behavior, the attorney can discuss that belief with the other collaborative professionals. With cooperation between the professionals, the issue can be brought into the open and each party can be informed of the consequences of the abusive behavior on the parties and their children in a nonthreatening way. The victim and the perpetrator can be referred to outside therapy and the parties can be helped to change their relationship. The parties can be taught a new and safer method of communicating with each other.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The collaborative process has now been codified in the Florida statutes, and there are rules of procedure and professional responsibility that govern how attorneys must act when the process is used to help families resolve their differences. There will now be uniformity in the practice of collaborative law in Florida. Attorneys will not be able to represent to clients that they use the collaborative process unless they comply with the statute, rule of procedure, and rule of professional conduct. It is anticipated that the collaborative process will become more mainstream, with more attorneys offering it to their clients and more clients asking their attorney to use the process. The public policy in Florida, now stated in F.S. §61.55, should not be ignored. This author believes that the public policy is consistent with the trend in the practice of family law over the last 20 years.
At your local courthouse, you will find that the vast majority of people involved in family matters are not represented by attorneys. Everyone has heard about the nightmares that litigation has caused to families. Family attorneys do not get paid for all of their time because the clients cannot afford to continue battling in court. Children of divorce are affected for years by what they are put through by their parents going after each other in court. Virtually every form that a party needs to file in court is available through the courts’ self-help offices or online through the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure forms or websites, such as Legal Zoom and LexisNexis. If we, as a profession, do not create a better model for the public, the public will leave us behind and handle their family matters without attorneys. The collaborative process is a solution to that dilemma because it should be more efficient than traditional litigation; it empowers a couple to determine the future for their family rather than a stranger making that decision for them; it is a private process; resolutions can be more creative than in court; it can be less expensive than traditional litigation; and it preserves relationships rather than destroying them.
The next step in the collaborative world should be the creation of a system to certify professionals who meet certain standards, similar to our Supreme Court’s system of certifying mediators through the Dispute Resolution Center. As of now, nothing stops an attorney or any other professional from holding himself or herself out as a collaborative professional. In the opinion of this author, that should not change, because to do otherwise would be a restraint of trade. But the public should know there are collaborative professionals who have met certain standards, such as attending trainings and having handled a number of collaborative matters. The Florida Bar could certify collaborative attorneys, but mental-health and financial professionals are such an integral part of the collaborative process that failing to create a system to certify them as well would be an injustice to those professions and a disservice to the public. It is hoped that the Florida Supreme Court and the Dispute Resolution Center, along with the help of the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals, can find a way to certify lawyers, mental-health professionals, and financial professionals as qualified collaborative professionals in the near future. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to do so — the public deserves it.
The collaborative process is beginning to be used to help parties resolve their differences in disputes outside of the family arena, such as in probate, guardianship, commercial disputes, and even wrongful death cases. This author suggests that the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of The Florida Bar take a serious look at the collaborative process. There is an incentive for many of the clients of those attorneys to maintain a relationship, rather than to destroy their relationships. Litigation is costly and destructive to those relationships. With the collaborative process, those clients should be able to reasonably resolve their differences and move on with their lives.
Finally, this author hopes The Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court will expand the responsibility of lawyers to screen for domestic violence beyond just collaborative family attorneys. We, as attorneys, have a special place and responsibility in our society. We should be gatekeepers for all aspects of fairness and justice. All of us, regardless of whether we practice family, bankruptcy, criminal, real estate, or any other type of law, should be required to take action if we reasonably believe that any of our clients have a history of coercive or violent behavior. We owe it to our society as experts in the law to do what we can to protect victims of domestic violence, which has been identified as a national health crisis.26 The Florida Supreme Court and the Bar are urged to create a rule of professional responsibility that requires all attorneys to reasonably screen for a history of coercive and violent behavior involving their clients.
1 In re: Amendments to Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 4-1.19 and Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure 12.745 (Collaborative Process), 218 So. 3d 440 (Fla. 2017).
2 Fla. Stat. Ch. 61, Part III.
3 2016 Fla. Laws H.B. 967.
4 National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Uniform Collaborative Law Rules and Uniform Collaborative Law Act (2010), available at http://www.uniformlaws.org/shared/docs/collaborative_law/uclranducla_finalact_jul10.pdf.
5 See Fla. Stat. §61.55 for the definitions of various relevant terms that are used in the statutes and the rules.
6 The collaborative process can be used, for instance, to negotiate a prenuptial agreement, consistent with Fla. Stat. §61.079. Such a use of the process would not result in an action being filed in court, unless a dissolution of marriage action was later filed.
7 Fla. Stat. §61.56(4).
8 Note that the opposite is prohibited because a collaborative attorney is disqualified from representing a client in contested litigation against another party to the collaborative process. Rul. Reg. Fla. Bar 4-1.19, Rules of Professional Conduct.
9 Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.505(f).
10 “‘Family or household member’ means spouses, former spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently residing together as if a family or who have resided together in the past as if a family, and persons who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether they have been married. With the exception of persons who have a child in common, the family or household members must be currently residing or have in the past resided together in the same single dwelling unit.” Fla. Stat. §741.28(3).
11 Fla. Fam. Law R. P. 12.010(a) provides that the rules apply to “all actions concerning family matters…” (emphasis added), so a mere rule of procedure cannot cover all of the requirements that an attorney must abide by when providing the collaborative process to a client.
12 Such conduct would, in the opinion of the writer, be a violation of Rul. Reg. Fla. Bar 4-7.13, Rules of Professional Conduct.
13 The motto of The Florida Bar is “Pursuing Justice. Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.” The Florida Bar, https://www.floridabar.org. Its mission statement includes protecting the public as well. About The Florida Bar, https://www.floridabar.org/about.
14 Note that the definitions in the preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct state, “Informed consent denotes the agreement by a person to a proposed course of conduct after the lawyer has communicated adequate information and explanation about the material risks of and reasonably available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct.”
15 Rul. Reg. Fla. Bar 4-1.4.
16 Rul. Reg. Fla. Bar 4-1.1.
17 Collaborative trainings are given throughout the year in Florida, the U.S., and other countries. See Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Calendar, http://www.collaborativepracticeflorida.com/events (for trainings scheduled in Florida).
18 Rul. Reg. Fla. Bar 4-1.2, Rules of Professional Conduct; Fla. Fam. Law R. P. 12.040.
19 The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals reported that more than 80 percent of collaborative matters are resolved. International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, FAQ Based on Cases Reported to the Practice Survey as of July 6, 2010 International Academy of Collaborative Professionals Research Project, available at https://www.collaborativepractice.com/media/2830/FAQ_IACPProfessionalPracticeSurveythrough7_6_10.pdf.
20 Florida Supreme Court, Time-Sensitive Petition to Adopt Proposed Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 4-1.19 and Out-of-Cycle Report to Adopt Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure 12.745 (Collaborative Law Process) (2016), available at https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2016/1685/2016-1685_petition_65197.pdf.
21 The attorney should consider preparing a written document to be signed by the client that identifies the issues that will affect the cost of the collaborative process, at a minimum.
22 See note 4.
23 Rose Garrity, Mediation and Domestic Violence, What Domestic Violence Looks Like (Mar. 1998), https://www.biscmi.org/documents/MEDIATION_AND_DOMESTIC_VIOLENCE.html; The Advocates for Human Rights, Mediation, http://www.stopvaw.org/mediation; Anita Vestal, Domestic Violence and Mediation: Concerns and Recommendations (May 2007), http://www.mediate.com/articles/vestala3.cfm.
24 Michigan Courts, Domestic Violence Screening Protocol for Mediators, available at https://goo.gl/w9uewL.
25 New Hampshire, Office of Professional Licensure and Certification, Domestic Violence Guidelines for New Hampshire Certified Family Mediators (2015), available at https://www.oplc.nh.gov/family-mediator/documents/domestic-violence-guidelines.pdf.
26 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The History of Violence as a Public Health issue, www.cdc.gov; Florida State University, National Prevention Toolkit on Domestic Violence for Medical Professionals, http://dvmedtraining.csw.fsu.edu/about/.
Robert Joseph Merlin exclusively practices family law in Coral Gables. He specializes in collaborative family law and other nonadversarial processes to help clients resolve their family matters without litigating. He is Florida Bar board certified in marital and family law and is a Florida Supreme Court certified family mediator. He is on the boards of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals, and the Collaborative Family Law Institute. Merlin is a member of the Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida and the South Palm Beach Collaborative Law Group. He is chair of The Florida Bar Family Law Rules Committee, and past president of the Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. Merlin lectures regularly on collaborative family law, and has written numerous articles about the collaborative process. He meets IACP standards as a qualified trainer of professionals in the collaborative process, and was the point person in Florida for the passage of the Florida Collaborative Law Process Act and the adoption of the collaborative rule of procedure and The Florida Bar Collaborative Rule of Professional Conduct, all of which went into effect on July 1, 2017. Merlin has law and accounting degrees from the University of Florida.
This column is submitted on behalf of the Family Law Section, Nicole L. Goetz, chair, and David Hirschberg and Heather Apicella, editors.