Court Adopts New Rules to Facilitate Coordination of Related Family Court Proceedings

By Jacek Stramski

The Florida Supreme Court this week (SC12-2007 and SC12-2030) adopted several rule changes to the Rules of Judicial Administration and the Family Law Rules of Procedure in furtherance of its long-standing goal of establishing a “a fully integrated, comprehensive approach to handling all cases involving children and families.” In re Report of the Family Court Steering Committee, 794 So. 2d 518 (Fla. 2001).
The rule changes, proposed by the Florida Supreme Court’s Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court (Steering Committee), effected several notable changes. Rule 2.545 of the Rules of Judicial Administration was modified to include cases of stalking within the definition of “family cases.” The notice of related case requirements in that rule were also clarified to require such a notice to be filed in all related cases pending in court, and to be served on all parties in those cases. Joint notices are now also explicitly permitted.
The most significant changes were made to the Family Law Rules of Procedure. The Court adopted rule 12.003, which provides that all related family court cases must be handled by one judge, unless it is impractical to do so. If it is impractical for one judge to handle all related family cases, the judges may schedule case conferences to coordinate the related cases, and the appropriate court will consolidate as many of the related matters to be heard by one judge as possible. Rule 12.003 also permits joint hearings and trials to be held on any issues in related family cases.
New rule 12.004 permits a judge hearing a family case to access and review the files of any related case, whether it is pending or closed. New rule 12.006 provides that a court may file copies of court papers in related cases in order to ensure that the various case files contain all relevant filings.
The Court adopted Rule of Family Procedure 12.007 to address the treatment of records that might have inconsistent confidential status across related cases. The rule provides that access to confidential files in related cases may only be granted pursuant to Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420. Finally, new rule 12.271 provides that “hearings or proceedings involving more than one related family case are subject to the applicable state and federal confidentiality statutes pertaining to each case as if it were heard separately, …[and] that the confidentiality of a case or issue is not waived by coordination or joint hearings.”