Hello, my name is Matthew Capstraw (Matt), and I have been practicing Family Law in the State of Florida for more than 24 years now. My first experience with the Collaborative Practice was in 2007 when I was the Secretary of the Rule and Forms Committee of the Florida Bar Family Law Section. During one of the meetings, a subcommittee made a report related to their efforts in creating a rule of procedure to codify the Collaborative Process for the state of Florida. When the subcommittee made their report, it was clear that even with this small subcommittee of four members there was too much fighting for there to ever be a product. The Chair of the meeting then decided to appoint me, the Secretary of the Committee, to serve as the secretary of that subcommittee to determine what the problem was.
In learning about the Collaborative Process, it was clear that there were several problems. The Collaborative Process could not just be a rule of procedure, as there were confidentiality requirements that needed to be in statutes. Also, the mandate that an attorney who represented a party in a failed collaborative process could not then represent the party in a dissolution would need to be in the ethics rules.
As with all good ideas, there were obstacles and difficulties getting the Collaborative Process enacted. Finally, in 2016 through the efforts of Cole Jefferies, Esquire, Robert Merlin, Esquire, and myself the Collaborative Process Act became Part III of Chapter 61, Domestic Relations. Work continued to finish the needed rules of procedure and ethics and to create proper forms.
When I view the Collaborative Process, I see it as a trust building exercise. Many times, in marriages, parties will trust their partner to handle certain things, like bills, investments, finances, home improvement, education, and alike. With a dissolution, these things areas become one of conflict and concern. Did the other parent hide money while they were doing the finances? What do we actually own anyways? One spouse rarely ever helped with the children’s homework, how are they supposed to do that now?
The allied professionals help with these questions. The Financial Planner or CPA helps the parties identify their income, assets and liabilities so the parties can understand what financial resources they have to work with and divide. The Mental Health Professional will help the parties understand the needs and best interests of their children while creating a parenting plan.
The Family Law Attorneys help the parties understand what is possible in court but also what is possible in contract. For example, while a Florida Court will not order a parent to contribute to a college education, the parties can contract for that.
In all of these discussions and negotiations, the parties help learn to transition to their new roles, rather than being spouses they are now partners and co-parents in raising their children or how to deal with each other in future interactions.
That is why I worked so many years and countless unpaid hours to help create a system that enables parties, particularly parents, find a way to end their marriage in which they come out feeling as whole as possible, have a thought out and more workable solution for them and their children, and develop less animosity towards each other then if they had litigated their dissolution.