“Never Leave It In The Hands Of The Judges”

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post revealing that I am a huge fan of mixed martial arts and comparing the Unified Family Courts with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”).  The main point of the post: both the Unified Family Courts and the UFC may be interesting to observe, but I would never want to be a participant in either as it would be too painful.

Interestingly, the UFC has a maxim that applies to most family law situations: “Never Leave It In The Hands Of The Judges.”  In both situations, this applies because no matter how persuasive you are, or how hard you fight, when you let judges decide your fate, you are giving up control of the outcome and your future.  Further, as wise and dedicated as judges are, they can get things wrong.

Fortunately, there are alternatives, including uncontested divorces, mediation, and Collaborative Divorce.  This post will focus on why you want to reach an out-of-court agreement rather than rely on contested court hearings.

Judges Are Not Your Friend

It is common at the end of UFC fights, when all rounds are over but before the judges have made a decision, for both fighters to raise their hands in victory.  Both fighters’ cornermen will tell them that they won.  Then the decision comes, and one fighter loses.  That fighter’s cornermen will tell them that they were robbed.  They were not.  They left it in the hands of the judges.

Similarly, when you are speaking to your friends about your divorce, they are there for you.  They will tell you that you are in the right, and that your spouse is in the wrong.  Your friends are sympathetic and loyal.  They are everything a friend should be.

Judges are not your friend.  They will not overlook the weaknesses in your argument, and they will not tolerate you talking about things that they do not view as legally relevant.  For example, your friends may agree with you that the divorce is your spouse’s fault.  Judges do not care whose fault the divorce is, as Florida is a no fault state.

Further, when you let a judge decide, even if they decide in your favor, you and your spouse ‘s intimate details will likely end up in the final judgment of divorce.  The final judgment is a public record.   Accordingly, it will forever be available for your children, employers, clients, and/or competitors to view.

Judges Constrain Your Options

In the UFC, the judge has a limited number of outcomes they can decide.  The main decision is who wins, and who loses.  Yes, there can sometimes be a draw, but that is rare.  Beyond this, the judges have very little discretion.

Similarly, in family law, there are strict limitations on what a judge can decide.  For example, in a divorce a judge cannot grant grandparent rights, or create a pet custody schedule, or decide how your children’s college expenses will be paid.

On the other hand, when you and your spouse make the decisions in a Collaborative Divorce or other private process, you and your spouse can get creative.  Do you want a parenting plan that includes visitation with your parents?  You can do that.  Do you want to create a custody schedule for your dog, cat, or other pet?  If you and your spouse agree, no problem.  Do you want to address your children’s expenses beyond high school, when child support generally ends?  Yes, that can happen, too.  But only if you leave it out of the hands of the judges.

Judges Do Not Have Time For You

In the UFC, fighters have 15 or 25 minutes to prove their case.  There is no overtime.  After that time, the judges decide.

Similarly in family law, your time in front of a judge is very limited.  Many people are surprised and frustrated about all of the things that they cannot say or bring to the judge’s attention because of time constraints.   Family law judges are handling hundreds of cases at a time, and you are not special to them.  Further, court mandated rules will oftentimes dictate the pace and timing of the court process.  And yet, it is not uncommon for contested divorces to go on for years.

On the other hand,  you and your spouse can control the pace and timing of your negotiations and agreement in a Collaborative Divorce or other process.  You can use as much, or as little, time as it takes for you and your spouse to reach an out-of-court agreement.  In my experience, Collaborative Divorces tend to finalize much more quickly than contested divorces, but additional time can always be added if that is what the circumstances require.


As I mentioned, I am a huge fan of the UFC.  I am also a great admirer of family law judges, as they have a very difficult job.  There are some situations where spouses simply cannot reach an agreement, or where there are severe issues that make negotiations impossible.   For these cases, judges need to be the decision-maker.  But in my experiences, those cases are the exception rather than the rule.  In the vast majority of family law matters, it is best to follow the UFC maxim, and never leave it in the hands of the judges.

Adam B. Cordover is a member of the Board of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and a Florida Accredited Collaborative Professional.  He is co-author of an American Bar Association book on Collaborative Practice.  Adam also trains lawyers, judges, therapists, accountants, and financial planners about the Collaborative Process.