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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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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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What is a Collaborative Facilitator?

If you are looking at your divorce options (from traditional divorce to collaborative divorce to mediation), you may have come across the term “Collaborative Facilitator.”  What is a Collaborative Facilitator?

A Collaborative Facilitator is a neutral professional in a collaborative divorce.  He or she is oftentimes utilized as a team leader and communication specialist within the collaborative family law process.  He or she generally has a background in family dynamics, childhood development, and/or  conflict management.  A Collaborative Facilitator will have credentials and a license.  These will be in the area of marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, social work, psychology,  or psychiatry.  However, the Collaborative Facilitator is not engaging in therapy as part of the collaborative process.

Author, psychologist, and collaborative trainer Jeremy S. Gaies, in A Clear and Easy Guide to Collaborative Divorce, discusses the role of the Collaborative Facilitator (which he describes as “coach,” using the nomenclature of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals) in the following excerpt:

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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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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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The Walking Dead: Who Is Judith’s Legal Father?

AMC’s The Walking Dead recently premiered its season 8 debut.  For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead follows former deputy sheriff Rick Grimes and others as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world of zombies (which they call “walkers”).

The Human Element of The Walking Dead

Even more interesting than interactions with the walkers, the show focuses in on the interaction between people.  Rick and the gang have fought off a host of bad guys.  A one-eyed psychotic governor.  Bar-B-Que loving cannibals.  Most recently, a baseball bat-wielding sadist with a sophomoric sense of humor.

But the most fascinating part of the show may just be its human drama surrounding relationships between Rick and his family.  Last season, Rick made a startling admission to Michone.  Michone is a samurai sword brandishing badass and Rick’s current love interest.  The admission concerned Rick’s daughter, Judith.

When the apocalypse started, Rick had been separated from his wife, Lori.  Lori escaped the initial chaos with Rick’s best friend, Shane.  Shane and Lori thought Rick had died with the initial wave of walkers, and Shane and Lori became romantically involved.

Lori and Shane’s relationship ended when they learned Rick was still alive.  Inevitably, tensions rose between Shane and Rick, which lead to Rick killing Shane.  Eventually, Lori gave birth to a child, Judith, though Lori did not survive the birth.

Which brings us back to Rick’s admission to Michone.  Rick tells Michone he knows that Shane is Judith’s biological father.

So who is Judith’s legal father?

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Video: Ron Ousky on Hiring A Family-Focused Divorce Lawyer

When determining which attorney to hire for your divorce, you may be tempted to believe that your best option is to hire an overly-aggressive lawyer.  But is that truly going to benefit you and your family?  Do you want to make your spouse “the enemy” and make your children collateral damage?  Well, there is another option.  Instead, you can hire a family-focused divorce lawyer.

In the video below, Minnesota collaborative attorney Ron Ousky, former president of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, discusses, among other things, why you should consider hiring a family-focused divorce lawyer.

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2016 Collaborative Law Process Act Making Progress in Florida Legislature

Senate Bill 972, the “Collaborative Law Process Act,” is making its way through the Florida Senate and will hopefully become law this summer.

[UPDATE 2: Governor Scott signed the Collaborative Law Process Act on 3/24/16]

[UPDATE: The Collaborative Law Process Act Passed the Florida Legislature on 3/4/16.  Learn more about it in the following Article: Collaborative Law Process Act Protects Families’ Privacy]

The Collaborative Law Process Act creates a legal framework for families to resolve disputes outside of court.  The bill specifies that family law matters under chapters 61 or 742 of the Florida Statutes may be resolved via the collaborative process.  These family law matters include the following:

  • Divorce;
  • Alimony and child support;
  • Marital property and debt distribution;
  • Child custody and visitation (also known as time-sharing and parental responsibility);
  • Parental relocation with a child;
  • Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements; and
  • Paternity.

Families in Tampa Bay, Greater Sarasota, and throughout the state of Florida are already utilizing the collaborative process to resolve divorce and other matters privately and respectfully, but a big improvement with this bill is that there will be a statutory framework to ensure discussions had in the collaborative process can be enforced as confidential.   Read more

What Is A Florida Parenting Plan?

Any Florida parent who is going through a divorce with children or otherwise dealing with child custody issues will need to have a parenting plan.  A parenting plan is document that is either agreed upon by the parents or created by a judge that sets out each parents’ rights and responsibilities.  The Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco Counties) further describes a parenting plan as follows:

It is the public policy of this state to assure that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. Florida Statutes, section 61.13(2)(c).

A parenting plan is a document developed and agreed to by the parents of a minor child, and approved by the court, or if the parents cannot agree, established by the court, which governs the relationship between the parents regarding the child (encompassing “custody”, “parental responsibility”, and “visitation”). A parenting plan may address issues such as the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being, and must include a time-sharing schedule. The parenting plan must take into account the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction when addressing jurisdictional issues.

For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

Any parenting plan approved by a court must address the following issues:

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HIV AIDS & Florida Child Custody

May a Florida Family Law Court deny a parent custody rights solely because he or she has HIV or AIDS?

According to section 61.13(6), Florida Statutes, the answer is no, but the court may take some actions.

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