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.

Tampa Bay Business Journal Article Discusses Collaborative Divorce In Hillsborough County

The Tampa Bay Business Journal recently published an article (subscription required) on the new collaborative divorce administrative order that went into effect for Hillsborough County.  I was honored to be interviewed for the article, which included some of the following quotes:

“‘It’s pretty new in the Tampa area,’ said Adam Cordover, a family law practitioner and Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay board member. ‘The courts are so backed up, the judge(s) are on board with an alternative to contested divorces.’

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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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Tampa’s Head Family Law Judge Endorses Collaborative Process

Judge Catherine M. Catlin, Associate Administrative Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Domestic Relations Division, recently lead a round table discussion sponsored by the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay (“CDITB”). Judge Catlin relayed, among other things, that she encourages clients to participate in private alternative dispute resolution methods such as collaborative practice.

2012-07-12 Judge Catlin and CDITB Board

From L to R: Bob Evans, Christine Hearn, Adam B. Cordover, Judge Catherine M. Catlin, Beth Reineke, Lara Davis, David Harper

Collaborative practice (also known as collaborative family law, collaborative process, and collaborative divorce) is a method of resolving disputes where the parties agree that they are not going to bring their case in front of a judge to decide issues of custody, division of assets, etc. Instead, they hire trained collaborative attorneys committed to reach a settlement. A neutral facilitator or mental health professional is retained to move the process forward and keep the parties focused on the future of the family and children rather than on the arguments of the past. A neutral financial expert is often brought on board to develop settlement options that make sense for the family’s financial well-being.

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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).

Appellate Judges Discuss Collaborative Divorce in Meeting of Hillsborough and Pinellas Family Law Attorneys and Judges

I recently had the opportunity to attend a joint meeting of the Tampa Bay Family Law Inn of Court and Pinellas County’s Canakaris Inn of Court.  The guest speakers were three judges from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals:  Chris Altenbernd, Edward C. LaRose, and Robert Morris.  I had the opportunity to discuss collaborative divorce with the appellate judges.  The following excerpt of a Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay article describes a portion of the meeting and my discussions:

 Judge Chris Altenbernd (who served as chief judge from 2003-2005) observed that, by the time divorce and paternity cases reach the appellate level, both parties have almost invariably already lost:

“You have families that are being torn apart, and the parties are arguing often for the sake of arguing, not putting children’s issues and the families’ financial future first.”

Judges Edward C. LaRose and Robert Morris agreed.

The Second D.C.A.'s Judge Chris Altenbernd and CDITB Membership Chair Adam B. Cordover Discuss Collaborative Divorce (April 4, 2012)

The Second D.C.A.’s Judge Chris Altenbernd and CDITB Membership Chair Adam B. Cordover Discuss Collaborative Divorce (April 4, 2012)

Judge LaRose then asked the attorneys in the audience whether collaborative practice was being utilized in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay membership chair Adam B. Cordover answered their question. “The practice of collaborative family law is growing in Tampa Bay. Last year, the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay provided training to instruct more attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial experts on how to handle collaborative divorce cases in a way that is private, individually-tailored, respectful, and takes into account the best interests of any children involved.  In short, we collaborative professionals are carrying out the ideal of ‘therapeutic jurisprudence.’”

Judge Altenbernd later relayed to Mr. Cordover that he supports the collaborative process, especially in divorce cases where issues of child custody and parenting plans are involved.  ”I just think more people need to seriously consider the family-focused process of collaborative divorce rather than fight it out in the court system.”

Attorney Adam B. Cordover has completed advanced training in interdisciplinary collaborative family law.  He is on the Board of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay and is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

If you have questions regarding collaborative divorce and you wish to speak with a Tampa Bay collaborative attorney, contact The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or by completing our online form.

Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay Unveils New Website

The Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay (“CDITB”) recently unveiled its brand new website to promote the dynamic and growing practice of collaborative law.  The new website address is http://CollaborativeDivorceTampaBay.com.

Collaborative Practice

Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay Unveils New Website

As a member of the CDITB Website Steering Committee, I am proud of the work we accomplished in bringing the website public.  You can find articles and videos exploring various topics in collaborative family law practice.   You can review answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about collaborative divorce.  And now you can find collaboratively trained communication coaches/mental health professionals, financial professionals, and attorneys in your area by simply entering your zip code into our Collaborative Professional Directory.

Attorney Adam B. Cordover has completed advanced training in interdisciplinary  collaborative law and is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the CDITB.

To learn more about collaborative law, call The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

Garon: 8 Tips for Co-Parenting During the Holidays

Winter break can be one of the most difficult times for both children and parents to cope with divorce.  We see Christmas and New Years cheer and celebration everywhere as we are dealing with our own internal and external stressors that make the mere sight of such images so painful.  However, we must dedicate all of our strength to keep this period of time as happy and stable as possible for our children.

Risa Garon, a licensed clinical social worker, collaborative law mental health professional, and Executive Director of the National Family Resiliency Center, Inc., provides tips for co-parenting during the holidays:

  1. What can you as a parent handle? Be honest with yourself and how you feel.
  2. Be honest with your children about your limitations and what you can handle. Approach them in a way that doesn’t burden them with your feelings. Ask them what would help them during the holidays.
  3. Recognize that rituals are symbolic and often treasured by children and adults. If possible, try to have some of your family’s traditional rituals and include your children in creating new ones. Read more