COLLABORATIVE DIVORCE AND FAMILY LAW IN FLORIDA. No matter how you look at it, divorce and family law matters are difficult to go through. Expectations of stability are shattered,
mistrust grows, and bills pile up. And then the litigation begins. Attorneys file and serve petitions, counterpetitions, requests to produce, and motions to compel. Each party hires dueling mental health experts to convince a judge that he or she should have more time with the children. Privacy is eliminated as each party’s life is probed and publicly questioned so that one side may gain a tactical advantage.
But there is a different way. A more civilized way. And it is called Collaborative Family Law (also known as Collaborative Divorce or Collaborative Practice).
We are a Collaborative law firm dedicated to helping people resolve personal disputes without destroying their families. We encourage the use of the Collaborative Family Law model in divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, post-judgment, prenuptial, and most other family law cases. Further, Adam B. Cordover is an internationally-recognized leader in Collaborative Practice, a trainer who teaches other professionals how to help families Collaboratively, and author of an upcoming American Bar Association book on Collaborative Law.
There has been a growing recognition over the past few decades that courtroom divorce, an adversarial process that pits husband against wife, is a dreadful and harmful method to resolve family disputes. As a result, the Florida Supreme Court, like many other judicial bodies, declared that family matters needed “a system that provided nonadversarial alternatives and flexibility of alternatives; a system that preserved rather than destroyed family relationships;…and a system that facilitated the process chosen by the parties.” In re Report of the Family Law Steering Committee, 794 So. 2d 518, 523 (Fla. 2001).
Two alternatives that have developed to fill this space are mediation and collaborative divorce. As collaborative divorce is a relatively new option, and there exists much confusion – even among experienced family law practitioners – about the differences between these two methods of dispute resolution, this article looks to compare and contrast mediation and collaborative divorce.
Event versus Process
Mediation is generally a one-time meeting where the parties come together, along with a mediator, to attempt to settle disputes. In Florida, the parties’ attorneys are also in the room, though other jurisdictions exclude attorneys. The mediator is a neutral actor who does not have the power to force the parties into any type of settlement, but can only encourage them to reach an agreement. A mediation conference will generally last from 3 to 8 hours or more. If the parties cannot reach an agreement in that meeting, then they tend to go to court, usually multiple times.
Collaborative divorce as a form of out-of-court dispute resolution has been around since 1990, but it did not just magically appear. Minnesota family law attorney Stu Webb decided he was fed up with the traditional adversarial court system. And he decided to do something about it.
In the video below, Henry Yampolsky of the Living Peace Institute interviews collaborative divorce founder Stu Webb:
Running a small business is tough enough. Running a small business while your marriage is falling apart can be crushing. But you don’t need to go through a traditional court battle if divorce is on the horizon. Your business does not need to be a casualty. There is an alternative. There is collaborative divorce.
Small Business & Privacy
Collaborative divorce is a form of out-of-court dispute resolution that values privacy. This means that your client lists, inventory details, and other trade secrets remain safely away from public court records. In fact, here in Florida, the Collaborative Law Process Act and accompanying rules safeguard most communications had within a collaborative divorce. Courts now have authority to sanction a party who reveals a collaborative law communication.
It has been less than one year since Florida’s Collaborative Law Process Act has gone into effect. Now is a perfect time to take a Two-Day Introductory Interdisciplinary Tampa Collaborative Training!
Next Generation Divorce and Tampa Bay Academy of Collaborative Professionals are co-sponsoring the training to teach more professionals how to help families peacefully and privately to resolve their disputes. The training will be conducted by the Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers.
- Friday, April 6: Sign-in, continental breakfast and networking
- 7:30 am
- Friday, April 6: Training
- 8:30 am to 5 pm
- Saturday, April 7: Training
- 9:00 am to 5 pm
Are you leaning towards divorce but your spouse is not? Have you tried couple’s counseling but found that the pressure was all on you to change? Do you want a time-limited, non-adversarial way to help you and your spouse determine whether it is time to divorce? If so, you should look into discernment counseling.
Discernment counseling is a way for “mixed agenda” couples to determine what is next. Mixed agenda refers to the frequent scenario where one spouse is leaning out of the marriage and the other is leaning in. The couple comes together with a counselor to talk and determine whether they want to repair their marriage or divorce.
Hear from the Founder of Discernment Counseling
Dr. Bill Doherty, the founder of discernment counseling, discusses the method in the video below:
If you are considering divorce, you likely think that whether you can have an amicable or collaborative divorce depends wholly on your spouse. Certainly, the attitude and ability of your spouse to compromise has an effect, but in my experience the attorneys that you and your spouse choose has a much bigger impact.
Beginning A Litigation Divorce
If you and your spouse choose attorneys whose primary orientation is litigation, then there is a good chance that you will face a court battle. Your litigation attorney will likely draft a petition for dissolution of marriage asking for everything, and then have a process server or sheriff’s officer serve your spouse. These tactics are all intended to intimidate your spouse and get them to submit.
It should be no surprise that this usually elicits the opposite of the intended response. Not willing to submit, your spouse hires a “bulldog lawyer,” and the battle is on. Say goodbye to your children’s college saving. Know that this money will now be going to your lawyers’ children’s college tuition.
Fortunately, there is a different way.
In 2012, as news of Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs and his wife’s reaction repeated on TV broadcasts and magazines throughout the world, some professionals stood up and said it does not need to be this way. You can maintain your privacy and dignity in your family law matter. You can utilize the collaborative divorce process.
In the video below, Psychologist Ellie Izzo, author of The Bridge to I am: Rapid Advance Psychotherapy and co-author with Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Vicki Carpel Miller of Second Hand Shock: Surviving and Overcoming Vicarious Trauma, discusses collaborative divorce in the wake of the Tiger Woods divorce:
Collaborative divorce is not for everyone. Sure, most families going through divorce would benefit from the private, secure, and non-adversarial nature of the collaborative process. However, it may not be right for you if certain things are important to you.
Collaborative divorce is not right for you if…
You are seeking revenge
If you are seeking revenge, collaborative divorce is not right for you. The collaborative process will not satisfy your need to see your spouse suffer. This is because, at the beginning of the case, everyone signs a collaborative participation agreement in which the spouses agree to engage in good faith discussions to reach a resolution. Each spouse has his or her own attorney, and the attorneys are there solely to help the clients reach an agreement. The attorneys cannot be used for opposition research, lengthy motion practice, or accusatory litigation.
However, the attorneys are also there to safeguard the process. If an attorney believes that his or her client is no longer acting in good faith, or is only attempting to damage the other spouse, the attorney may have the right to terminate the process. This shuts down behavior meant to harass the other spouse. If the attorney believes his or her client can put the need for revenge aside, the collaborative process may continue. If not, the collaborative attorney has a duty to ensure that the process is not being used as a tool for vengeance.
Further, the collaborative process generally involves a neutral facilitator, with a background in communication, childhood development, and family and power dynamics. The facilitator helps keep conversations productive and forward-focused rather than centered on past grievances. The facilitator is also there to address power imbalances and shortcut vengeful actions and communications.
Do you ever wonder how your divorce is affecting your children? Do you sometimes think about how conflict may be affecting your own mental health, and your ability to effectively parent, or co-parent?
Gary Direnfeld is an internationally known social worker, speaker, and parenting expert based out of Ontario. He has been an expert witness in many high conflict divorce trials, and yet he is a strong believer that the courtroom is a terrible forum for resolving divorce and parenting disputes. In the following radio interview, Gary discusses why he believes parenting and divorce-related issues should be resolved outside of court:
You can find a partial transcript, slightly edited for clarity, below:
Roughly 80% of folks going through a separation or divorce are going to settle things between themselves. They may have some 3rd party assistance. Twenty percent are going to turn to the courts. Less than 5%, even if turning to the courts, are going to go to trial. Most matter settle ahead of a trial. And then there is that small percentage, that 1, 2, or 3% that really tie up the courts’ time. And I, for whatever reason, find myself heavily involved with those folks.
High conflict parents turn to the court searching for release only to find that in many, many cases, litigation only exacerbates the problems. It doesn’t resolve them. And the reason for that is, in turning to the courts, it is often a race to the bottom. I will prove my case by making you look worse than me, and no one wants to be on the receiving end of that. So the other parent reciprocates in kind. And then the “he said she said” escalates to such a pitch that it is hard to know one from the other.