When discussing personal items or having conversations regarding emotional, physical, or financial aid, many believe that such communications are confidential and will not be disclosed without proper consent. However, it is critical, especially when involved in a legal case that you know and fully understand the boundaries of confidential information and the privilege Florida law provides you as well as its limitations. Discuss this important privilege with your family lawyer during your initial meetings to prepare you for any conversations that may occur due to your litigation proceedings.
The rules governing confidential and privileged communication are found in Florida Statute 90.501-90.510. There are 10 types of communication that has been deemed privileged in the context of the law: journalist, lawyer client, fiduciary lawyer client, psychotherapist patient, sexual assault counselor victim, domestic violence advocate victim, husband wife, clergy, accountant client, and trade secrets. Each form of communication has its own governing law and therefore, it is important to know if your communication with these individuals falls under this protection. However, within a family law proceeding, generally you will only find yourself within lawyer client, psychotherapist patient, sexual assault counselor victim, domestic violence advocate victim, husband wife, and accountant client.
The lawyer client privilege is governed under statute 90.502 and protects communications between lawyers and clients that are sought to obtain legal services, and are intended to be confidential. This communication privilege is held by the client and they may refuse to disclose and prohibit any other from disclosing this communication. However, the privilege may be lost if the client sought the legal services in order to aid or commit a crime, the communication relates to an issue of breach by the lawyer, or is related to the competence of the client.
Another common privilege that may arise in a family law case is the communication between a psychotherapist and patient. In some cases, a spouse or parent may be seeking counseling regarding their mental health and the opposing spouse may seek to call this therapist as a witness. However, under Florida Statute 90.503, “communication between psychotherapist and patient is “confidential” if it is not intended to be disclosed to third persons other than: Those persons present to further the interest of the patient in the consultation, examination, or interview. Those persons necessary for the transmission of the communication. Those persons who are participating in the diagnosis and treatment under the direction of the psychotherapist.” You may lose this privilege if the communication relates to a hospitalization for a mental illness, if the communication occurred during a court ordered examination, or the mental condition is relevant to a defense raised by the party.
Clients who spoke with sexual assault counselor or domestic violence advocate may also claim this confidential privilege as long as the communication was not intended to be disclosed to a third party. In some family law cases, an opposing spouse may seek information given to a counselor about their spouse’s sexual history, or domestic violence in the home, in order to prove their unfitness to parent a child. However, this communication is strictly protected by Florida law.
The most common debate that arises in a family law proceeding is the husband and wife confidential communication protection. The general rule prohibits a spouse from revealing any communication given by their spouse that was not intended to be distributed to third parties. However, this privilege does not apply when the action is between spouses, such as in a divorce or child custody case.
Finally, in a family law case you may meet with an accountant to discuss your financial situation. The communication between the accountant and client is protected as long as you did not seek their services to commit a crime or fraud, the communication relates to an issue of breach by the accountant, or the communication is relevant to multiple clients who are in a civil action.
The confidential communication privilege is the foundation for many public policy functions and therefore is respected in the court of law. However, it is important to understand the limits of this privilege as to not overestimate your privacy and protection, especially when involved in a family court case. If you have any questions regarding the confidential communications privilege, seek your attorney's advice to ensure you are protected.
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