Collaborative Process: Clarifying Intent About “Mental Health Treatment”

Depressed teenager with head in hands. Florida Collaborative Practice: Clarifying Parents’ Intent About “Mental Health Treatment”

Florida’s divorce and paternity statutes don’t define “mental health treatment.” When they’re sharing parental responsibility, each parent retains parental consent to mental health treatment. However, by clarifying and agreeing to the scope of “mental health treatment” for their child, parents may avoid confusion and future litigation. 

Parents in collaborative practice may define by agreement “mental health treatment” and a protocol for decision making about mental health treatment. They may show the judge their agreement is in their child’s best interests.

Judges Should Respect Parents’ Agreements Clarifying Intent About “Mental Health Treatment” 

Judges have an independent duty to safeguard a child’s best interests, even when parents agree on how they’ll raise their child.  Although the parents’ agreement is not binding on the judge, See Feliciano v. Feliciano, 674 So.2d 937 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996),  Florida case precedent holds the judge has no free hand to disregard their wishes.  Sedell v. Sedell, 100 So.2d 639, 642 (Fla. 1st DCA 1958).

Florida law favors settlement agreements.  By collaborative contracts, parents can agree on creative solutions even a judge might be unable to order if they didn’t agree.

Therefore, a court should respect and uphold such agreements unless a valid reason related to the best interest of the child or a finding that parents’ agreements were involuntary or the product of fraud justifies not respecting and upholding the parents’ agreements.

For example, in Griffith v.Griffith, 860 So. 2d 1069 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003), there wasn’t enough evidence to support the trial judge’s disdaining parents’ mediation agreement. Their agreement resolved alimony, child support, and custody. Yet the court conducted post-mediation hearings to determine if the agreement was in the children’s best interest. Then, the judge concluded the agreement wasn’t in the children’s best interest. So the trial court cut the doctor-mom’s agreed-on child support obligation.  

And, in Williams v. Sapp, 255 So. 3d 912 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), a trial judge improperly modified parents’ mediation agreement for mom to have sole parental responsibility. But there was no notice or opportunity for mom to be heard. The appeals court held the trial judge must either approve the parents’ agreement as they negotiated it or, if the court is can’t or won’t, must conduct a properly-noticed evidentiary hearing.

Read more about how the Florida collaborative process lets divorcing parents harness their power to contract and reach creative solutions.

For more information about the collaborative process, contact Sampson Collaborative Law

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