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Sarasota/Manatee Courts Issue COVID-19 Parenting Procedures

Twelfth Circuit Chief Judge Kimberly C. Bonner last week signed an Administrative Order on Parenting Procedures in the Family Division During COVID-19 Pandemic.  The Administrative Order covers divorce and parenting/custody matters in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties.

In essence, the Administrative Order directs parents to follow any parenting plan that has been established and cooperate in making alternate arrangements if exchanges were to take place at now-closed schools or daycare.  If a parenting plan has not yet been established, the Order directs parents to permit and facilitate access of children to the other parent. The Administrative Order reads, in part, as follows:

WHEREAS, the World Health Organization has declared the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic, the Governor of Florida has declared a state of emergency exists, and the Surgeon General and State Health Officer have declared a public health emergency exists, and the Florida State Courts must take steps to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on legal proceedings and participants in those legal proceedings; and

WHEREAS, since March 17,2020, the Florida Supreme Court has issued various Emergency Administrative Orders found at https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Emergency , which include ordering the cancellation or postponement of all non-essential in-person hearings, and this court entered Administrative Order 2020-4.2, setting forth COVID-19 Emergency Procedures and Mission Essential Functions; and

WHEREAS, on April 1, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis entered Executive Order 20-91, referred to as a “Safer at Home” order, which orders all persons in Florida to limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities; and

WHEREAS, it is necessary to reduce the number of “emergency” filings and hearings in family division cases until non-essential in-person hearings resume; and

WHEREAS, it is in the best interests of the parties and child(ren) that parents continue to perform their duties and responsibilities of co-parenting, share the additional responsibilities of parenting through this time, and that the parties comply with all existing court orders and court rules; and

NOW THEREFORE, pursuant to the authority vested in me as Chief Judge of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit of Florida, under Rule 2.215 of the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, it is hereby ORDERED:

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Top 3 Tips To Prepare For Divorce

Now may be a tough time if you are considering divorce.  Your mind is racing, your future is unsettled, and your questions are unanswered.  But rest assured, there are things that you can do to prepare for divorce.

Here are the top 3 tips for you to consider when you are preparing for divorce.

1.  Gather Your Financial Documents

As part of any divorce process, you and your spouse are going to need to divide your marital assets and debts.  These could include funds in checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and other accounts.  These would also include liabilities such as mortgages, credit cards, charge cards, and loans.  Your marital assets might also include cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, or Ethereum.  You should make sure that you have access to (or make copies of) documents, statements, and/or screenshots reflecting all of these so you and your lawyer know what there is to divide.

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Video: Therapist Discusses Collaborative Divorce and Kids

Kids are often caught in the middle of divorce. Their parents are fighting, and many times the kids’ needs get ignored.

Fortunately, not all divorce processes are the same.  Collaborative divorce gives parents the opportunity to work in a non-adversarial setting and develop a parenting plan tailored to meet children’s needs.

In the video below, therapist Jacquie Lamb, LMHC, discusses collaborative divorce and children.  This video was produced by the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

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Podcast: In-Depth Interview on Collaborative Divorce

Recently, author and collaborative attorney Adam B. Cordover appeared on the “Talking Brains” podcast for an in-depth interview on on collaborative divorce.

The podcast is hosted by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, a therapist in Tampa specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and gaslighting.

In this wide-ranging interview, Stephanie and Adam discuss, among other things, the following:

  • The differences between the traditional court-based divorce and collaborative divorce;
  • The benefits of collaborative divorce for spouses;
  • The benefits of collaborative divorce for children;
  • The benefits of collaborative divorce for professionals;
  • The success rate of collaborative divorce;
  • What happens when spouses cannot reach an agreement;
  • Mosten, Forrest, & Cordover, Adam, Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice (ABA 2018);
  • The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals;
  • The Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals;
  • Next Generation Divorce; and
  • Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers.

You can listen to the podcast below:

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Is There A Better Way To Divorce?

Divorce is never easy.  I oftentimes hear people going through the stages of grief when discussing divorce, as if a loved one has died.  And, in a very real sense, divorce does signify the death of a relationship.

But imagine if, when a loved one died, you then picked a battle and entered a very public adversarial court system.  Your every move is scrutinized by a lawyer looking to portray you in the very worst light.  You are subjected to depositions and court hearings and a wide-net fishing expedition through all of your personal and financial matters.  And, all of this could be exposed to public scrutiny, as hearings and the court file are open for public viewing.

All of this, while you are experiencing the grief and trauma of death.  In this case, the death of a relationship.

There has got to be a better way to divorce, right?  To avoid the public indignity of an entrenched fight, right?

Fortunately, there are alternatives.  One alternative, which in this lawyer’s opinion is best for most families, is collaborative divorce.

Non-Adversarial Process

Collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial process.  Each spouse retains a separate attorney, and the two attorneys are there solely for the purpose of reaching an out-of-court agreement.  In fact, the collaborative attorneys are prohibited by law, once a collaborative process is started, from fighting in court.

Imagine that, attorneys helping clients reach a peaceful resolution.  The attorneys spend no time, no energy, and no money on opposition research, motion practice, or demonizing either spouse.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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What Should I Tell The Kids About Our Divorce?

If you have children and are going through a divorce, your biggest concern is likely how your kids will be affected. When is the best time to tell your children, and how much should you share with them?

Your Children Will Know

Your children will know that something is going on, and leaving them in the dark may cause more apprehension and stress in them than just being upfront. Establish a united front early in the process, and tell your children together that you are separating. Assure them that while things will be different, everything will be okay. Alleviate their fears that your divorce is in any way their faults. Remind them often during the process that everything will fine and it is not their faults.

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Does My Child Have A Say In Custody?

So, you are thinking about divorce. You, like many parents, may wonder whether your child has a say in the custody (also known as time-sharing) schedule. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, your child might have have some input in what your timesharing schedule should look like.  However, a child under the age of 18 does not have the final say in a time-sharing schedule.

How Your Child Can Have A Say In Custody

Whether your child has a say may depend on whether you choose to litigate your case, or instead, participate in alternative dispute resolution like collaboration or mediation. In most litigated cases, a judge will not allow a child to participate in the proceedings. However, if you proceed with collaborative practice or mediation, your child may be able to participate if you and your spouse agree. If so, your child may attend a portion of the mediation or collaborative meeting. The mediator or collaborative facilitator will help determine the appropriate forum for the child to express his wishes and whether you and your spouse should be present.

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Custody: What Does The Law Consider?

Florida Statute § 61.13 lists the factors that the law will consider when developing a child custody, also known as time-sharing, schedule. One major factor is whether you will encourage a close and continuing relationship between the children and the other parent. The law considers your histories and personalities. Section 61.13 examines whether you will be reasonable when changes are required. The law also considers your ability to keep each other informed regarding important matters regarding the children. Florida law frowns upon parents who disparage the other in front of the children or bring the children into their disputes.

Parental Responsibility and Child Custody

Section 61.13 also discusses parental responsibilities and whether third parties will have decision-making authority. For example, if you work eighty hours a week, it may not be realistic for you to have custody the majority of the time. Another consideration is whether you will be able to participate in the children’s school and extracurricular activities.

Another factor is whether you have demonstrated the capacity and disposition to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the children as opposed to your own needs or desires.

It is important to maintain stability as much as possible for the children.  Accordingly, the law considers the length of time the children have lived in a stable, satisfactory environment. Often times, if a temporary schedule is going well, the law suggests that it may be best to keep that custody schedule in place, especially if the child is tied to that home, school, and community.

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When Will I Get to See My Children?

Has your spouse petitioned for divorce and is now keeping your children from you? If so, you are likely wondering when you will get to see your children. There are several scenarios that could affect when you will be able to see your children.

Traditional Litigation Approaches

If your spouse simply refuses to allow you to see your children, and there is not yet a court order in place governing when each parent has time with the children, you may have to wait a few months before you see them. Of course, you have just as much right to your children as your spouse. But if your spouse is refusing you access, it likely isn’t in your children’s best interests to force the issue and cause an altercation. Depending on your situation, you may need to move for an emergency hearing to have the judge decide temporary timesharing as expeditiously as possible. Even in situations where a parent is denying the other parent access, a judge may require that parties mediate before allowing a temporary relief hearing to be set.

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Will I Get Custody of My Kids?

Every parent going through a divorce fears that they will not receive sufficient time or custody with their children. For parents who are used to seeing their children whenever they please, the thought of a third party ordering a schedule by which they have to abide can be nerve-wracking.

Traditional Divorce Court – Judge Decides Custody

If you decide to litigate your divorce in court, you will leave your destiny to a judge who only receives a snapshot glance at your life and parenting abilities. Outside factors will impact your case like the attorneys’ trial abilities, the mood and beliefs of the judge who is assigned to your case, the opinion of the experts which may be determined by which party is paying him, and how the parties and witnesses present themselves in court.

So how do you ensure a positive result in your case? Keep the decision in your own hands. Divorces do not have to occur in court, and actually, most do not. There are several courtless divorce options that are available that leave these important decisions to you and your spouse.

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