Family Law Section priorities are moving through the legislative process

Family Law Section priorities are moving through the legislative process

Embroiled in recent years in a high-stakes alimony reform debate, the Family Law Section this year has watched several priority measures sail through committees.

When pressed, Legislation Committee Co-Chair Beth Luna, a Fourth Judicial Circuit general magistrate, will only acknowledge that she’s “cautiously optimistic.”

“I feel like we’re having a good year,” she said. “Hopefully, it ends well.”

Rep. Traci Koster

Rep. Traci Koster

Luna points to HB 521, “Equitable Distribution of Marital Assets,” by Republican Rep. Traci Koster, a family law practitioner from Tampa.

HB 521 is already on second reading on the House calendar. It cleared the Civil Justice Subcommittee and Judiciary without a negative vote.

A companion, SB 534 by Republican Sen. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach attorney, cleared two committees unanimously and awaits a hearing in Rules.

The bills would bring more uniformity to resolving family law disputes, Luna said.

“It’s going to set up factors that the court can consider when determining if there are extraordinary circumstances present to justify doing a partial distribution of the martial assets or debts before a final judgment,” Luna said.

Another provision would specify that a gift of real property between spouses during the marriage would have to be in writing. For the first time, judges would have guidelines for valuing a closely held business, Luna said.

“The win here for Floridians is the fact that we’re giving courts some guidelines and consistency, but they are still going to have discretion,” she said.

Other measures regarding domestic violence that the Family Law Section supports are also on a fast track.

HB 385 by Republican Rep. Joel Rudman, a Northwest Florida physician, and Democratic Rep. Hillary Cassel, a Hollywood attorney, cleared the House 115-0 last month.

Rep. Joel Rudman

Rep. Joel Rudman

The bill would require sheriffs to establish at least one “safe exchange” location in every county for parents to swap custody of minor children. The location would be marked by signage or a purple light, and video monitored 24/7.

Another provision would require that applications for protective orders contain a checkbox for requesting a safe-exchange location.

Advocates have named it, “Cassie Carli’s Law,” after a 37-year-old Navarre mother who vanished in March 2022, following the exchange of her toddler daughter in a restaurant parking lot. The woman’s body was discovered six weeks later in Alabama. The child’s father is facing charges.

An initial version failed to pass last year after sheriffs expressed concerns about their ability to designate the safe-exchange locations, Rudman told one committee.

The Family Law Section was concerned that the initial version would have permitted some parties to game the system, Luna said.

But this year, the concerns have been addressed.

“We’re very grateful the stakeholders and the sponsors allowed us to come in and work with them on the language,” Luna said. “In my opinion, the courts have always had the ability to designate a safe exchange location. But now, it makes it really clear that they can include a neutral, safe location for someone to go who is in eminent fear.”

Rep. Alina Garcia

Rep. Alina Garcia

The Family Law Section is also applauding the progress of HB 761, “Interpersonal Violence Injunction Petitions,” by Rep. Alina Garcia, R-Miami, and Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville.

HB 761 is on second reading on the House calendar after clearing two committees unanimously. The companion, SB 852, by Rep. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, and Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Davie, cleared its first committee unanimously and faces only one more.

The bills would remove a requirement that petitions for protective orders be notarized.

Garcia said the simple change would make a significant difference for victims, many of them pro se, who would no longer have to print out a form and hire a notary to witness their signature.

Victims who are untruthful would still face a third-degree felony charge for perjury by false written declaration, Garcia noted.

The measure was suggested by the Supreme Court Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Courts, Luna said.

The Family Law Section has lent its support at every committee stop.

“It’s just a fantastic thing in terms of making it easier for victims, but still giving that petition the weight that it should have,” Luna said.

The Family Law Section is also encouraged by the rapid progress of HB 45 by Koster and Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a former prosecutor and Plantation criminal lawyer.

The bill, “Hope Cards,” cleared the Civil Justice, and Justice Appropriations subcommittees without a negative vote. It faces one more stop in Judiciary.

“We are confident that Hope Cards will make it easier for victims of domestic violence to prove they have a final judgement of injunction for protection, and the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar is pleased to see HB 45 advance,” Section Chair Sarah Kay said in a statement.

Sen. Tina Polsky

Sen. Tina Polsky

A companion, SB 86 by Book and Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton attorney, cleared Judiciary 10-0 earlier this month. If faces two more committee hearings.

Luna said it’s another example of common-sense legislation.

“Traditionally, when you get an injunction, you would have this big stack of paperwork to carry around,” she said. “Now you can show this wallet-sized card.”

 

Originally published at https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/family-law-section-priorities-are-moving-through-the-legislative-process/

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