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PRESS RELEASE: Tampa’s Chief Judge Signs Administrative Order on Collaborative Divorce

“They call it Collaborative Divorce.  It’s apparently all the rage right now.”  Jason Bateman’s character spoke these lines in the 2007 hit Juno, and now the practice has come to Tampa.

On July 31, 2012, Chief Judge Manuel Menendez, Jr., of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida signed an administrative order regulating collaborative family law practice in Hillsborough County.  The administrative order is just the fourth such order in the State of Florida.  The other circuits regulated by a collaborative family law administrative order are the Ninth Circuit (Orlando and Osceola Counties), the Eleventh Circuit (Miami-Dade County), and the Eighteenth Circuit (Brevard County).

According to Attorney Adam B. Cordover, “Hillsborough County’s collaborative law administrative order will bring more public awareness and certainty to this new and revolutionary form of family law practice.” Adam is a member of the task force that drafted and proposed the order and is also on the Executive Board of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay, which promotes collaborative practice for divorce and all other types of family law matters.

Collaborative practice (which is variously referred to as collaborative divorce, collaborative law, collaborative model, or collaborative process) is a relatively new form of alternative dispute resolution which takes divorce and other family law cases out of the public courtroom and into a private office.

Each party hires a collaboratively trained attorney and agrees from the very beginning to resolve personal and financial disputes without having a judge decide the outcome.

A neutral facilitator (who is often a trained mediator, psychologist, or other licensed mental health professional) is brought on board to ensure that discussions focus on the future of the family unit rather than the arguments of the past.  Additionally, the facilitator will ensure that discussions center around the interests of the parties (for example, “our child should go to a good school”) rather than on positions of the parties (for example, “our child must go to this particular school, or else…”).

A neutral accountant or other financial advisor may be brought on board when there are homes, businesses, mutual funds, or other assets that need to be divided.  The financial advisor will also come up with creative solutions for debt division, child support, and ongoing needs of the spouses.

According to financial professional David Harper, CPA, ABV, PFS, CFF, CBA, “Studies show that financial disputes are consistently the number one reason for divorce.  The collaborative divorce process promotes the honest exchange of all pertinent financial information so that each spouse has a comprehensive understanding of the financial aspects involved.  Because of this, the collaborative process often results in a settlement involving less money, less time, and less of an emotional toll on the spouses and their children than the traditional litigation process.”  Harper is an Executive Board member of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay and devotes nearly his entire practice to providing sound financial advice to families in the midst of divorce.

Collaborative practice has been gaining steam as a more sensible approach to divorce, and even celebrities are catching on.  Famous individuals who have utilized the collaborative process include Madonna, Robin Williams, and Cameron Crowe.

One of the lynchpins of collaborative practice is that, if the parties are unable to settle their differences and insist on going to court, their attorneys must withdraw, and new counsel may be retained.  Attorney Beth Reineke believes “This means divorcing parties are more committed to the settlement process and less likely to choose litigation if the road gets bumpy during negotiations.”  Reineke is a board certified emeritus family lawyer who has chosen not to litigate.  As president of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay, she either mediates with couples pre-suit or collaborates with the clients she represents.

More information on collaborative family law practice can be obtained from the Collaborative Divorce Institute’s website at http://www.CollaborativeDivorceTampaBay.com.

Chief Judge of Hillsborough County Endorses Collaborative Model in Administrative Order

Tampa’s Chief Judge Manuel Menendez has signed Administrative Order S-2012-041 endorsing the collaborative model of alternative dispute resolution for divorce and other family law cases in Hillsborough County.  From the administrative order:

The Florida Supreme Court recognized that family cases 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, 749 So. 2d 518, 523 (Fla. 2001).

The Florida Supreme Court’s acceptance of recommendations for a model family court is consistent with the principles of the collaborative practice model because the collaborative process empowers parties to make their own decisions guided and assisted by counsel in a setting outside of court.  The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit supports the philosophy that the interdisciplinary collaborative model may be a suitable alternative to full scale adversarial litigation in family law cases if the parties agree to such a model.

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Video: The Revolutionary Collaborative Family Law Process

Here in Tampa Bay, I have been promoting an alternative to courtroom divorce litigation known as collaborative divorce (also variously referred to as collaborative family law, collaborative practice, and collaborative process).  The video below, from Family Matters with Justice Harvey Brownstone, contains a comprehensive discussion of the collaborative process:

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Collaborative Divorce

Divorce is a trauma.  It is tough not only for the spouses who are separating, but also for their children, their friends, their relatives, and their community.  If you can avoid divorce, whether by seeking help from a therapist or clergy, you should attempt to do so.  However, sometimes a marriage is truly irretrievably broken.

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For those who are going through divorce, there is an alternative to the “War of the Roses” or “Kramer vs. Kramer” scenario where countless dollars are spent on attorney and expert witness fees, families are torn apart, and bridges are completely burned.  In most cases, the single best alternative in this attorney’s view (and in the view of a growing number of mental health professionals) is collaborative divorce.

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IACP Survey: Collaborative Process From the Clients’ Perspective

Introduction to IACP Client Survey

The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (“IACP”) has been conducting a survey which studies clients’ experiences with collaborative divorce and collaborative family law in general.  Collaborative divorce is a process by which parties, instead of going to court to litigate, agree to a private framework that lends itself to developing more creative options for financial, child custody, and other family issues.  Most times, a neutral mental health professional/communication coach and a neutral financial professional are engaged to facilitate the process.

These findings were compiled in the Spring 2012 edition of The Collaborative Review: The Journal of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (“What Clients Say About Their Experience in the Collaborative Process” by Linda Wray, J.D.).

About the Surveyed Collaborative Clients

Ninety-eight participants of the collaborative process responded to the survey between 2007 to 2010.  The participants were split pretty evenly between men and women.  The majority of respondents were between the ages of 40-59, were married for 16 years or more, and used the process in dissolving their first marriage.  The majority of respondents had children.  Most respondents had unsuccessfully attempted marital or couples counseling prior to engaging in the collaborative process.

Ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed settled their case via the collaborative process.

Satisfaction with the Collaborative Process and Its Outcome

Clients were asked their level of satisfaction on a variety of issues surrounding the outcome of their cases, including issues relating to their relationship with their children, relationship with their former spouse, co-parenting matters, development of post-divorce communication and parenting skills, and the terms of their settlement.  About three-quarters of clients were extremely or somewhat satisfied to the general outcome of their case, compared to 13% who were extremely or somewhat dissatisfied.

Clients were most satisfied with the outcome of the collaborative process on issues dealing with their children.  Clients felt that the interests and emotional well-being of their children were served well in the process.  Clients were also satisfied with their improved co-parenting skills.

Clients responded that they were somewhat satisfied to extremely satisfied with the following features of their collaborative process:

  • Meetings scheduled to accommodate clients’ schedules (as opposed to hearings accommodating the Court’s schedule);
  • Respectfulness of the collaborative process;
  • How free clients felt to express themselves in their case; and
  • The opportunity to address concerns directly with the other participant (as opposed to communicating solely through attorneys, mediators, or court motions).