Florida Family Law
Choosing a Family Law Attorney
A first consideration many times will be cost. In my area, the initial retainer or fee for a divorce attorney can run from free or $500 retainer and $50/hr through Legal Aid or reduced fee programs, to $500 an hour with a $25,000 retainer.
It's important to talk to attorneys you're considering hiring to get a feel for them -- to see if you'll be comfortable working with them, and to hear their preliminary ideas about your case.
It's also important to consider that different attorneys have different approaches to handling a case -- ranging from highly adversarial, to favoring "collaborative" or alternative dispute resolution approaches to resolving a case -- like mediation. A lot of it will depend on what you feel you need for your particular situation, and the circumstances of your case
Approaches to Resolving a Family Law Case
There are a few different approaches to handling a divorce or other family law case. The first is traditional family law litigation, where the parties themselves or through attorneys they hire, file suit and litigate the case in court. Even in litigation, the idea usually is to try to settle the case if possible before trial, but a case in court still involves the time, expense and fight that sometimes comes with that type of case.
Another approach is Collaborative Family Law. In this process both sides have their own attorney to advise them and be on their side for them, but everyone signs an agreement pledging to seek to resolve the case outside of court, no lawsuit is filed until the very end of the process after the parties already have a signed agreement settling everything, and if the case turns into a contested case in court, both of the collaborative family law attorneys have to withdraw and neither can represent a party in the contested case. Another feature of Collaborative Family Law is that the process usually moves forward via a series of meetings with the parties and attorneys, as well as any financial experts all present. There can be a counselor or therapist involved also to try to help move the process forward in a positive way, or to give advice regarding children's issues.
A third approach, is family law mediation. Many people are familiar with mediation these days. It's a process where a neutral third party -- i.e. the mediator, tries to help the parties move towards a settlement. Under Florida's rules, a mediator is permitted to provide general information about Florida Law, for example the factors listed in Florida's alimony statute for determining alimony, but isn't permitted to give legal advice, e.g. analyzing and applying the factors to the parties' particular case, and telling them the amount or range for alimony a court might be likely to award.
As mentioned, in a Collaborative Family Law case the parties have their own attorneys to advise them -- they can talk out issues with their attorney to decide on how to proceed, what they want for a settlement, etc. You don't have that in a mediation unless you hire an attorney to go with you to the mediation, or consult with an attorney before or after the mediation session, but the trade-off is that mediation most likely will be much less expensive than a collaborative family law case, and some people prefer a mediation without attorneys involved.
What is "Family Law"?
In Florida, Family Law refers to divorces, child support, child custody (or time-sharing and parental responsibility as it is called now in Florida), paternity cases, domestic violence, enforcement and modifications and a few other types of cases. The courts in Florida in each county are separated into different types of courts with "jurisdiction" over different types of cases, e.g. Circuit Court, Small Claims Court, and Family Court is one of these courts. So Family Law refers to the particular types of cases that are heard in Family Court. (one additional wrinkle is that Florida has a concept called Unified Family Court that is supposed to pull in some additional types of cases a family can be involved in -- but that process probably works a bit differently in different counties).
Steven E. Blumenthal, Esq.
- Hollywood, Florida Divorce Lawyer - Broward County Family Law Attorney
The website for my practice -- lots of information on the site about Florida divorce and family law, options for alternative dispute resolution, and local resources.