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UFC: Comparing Unified Family Courts with Ultimate Fighting Championship

I am a huge fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, usually referred to by its initials, UFC.  This comes as a big surprise to those getting to know me, because in my professional life I am dedicated to helping Tampa Bay families peacefully resolve their differences via the collaborative law process.  But there is something about the techniques, the artistry, the competition, the drama of a good fight that keeps drawing me to watch the sport.

And yet, I am not a big fan of another UFC, the Unified Family Courts, at least not as a means to resolve family disputes.  Beginning in 1991, a series of Florida Supreme Court opinions set out to create separate court division for families going through divorce, coordinate actions among the judges, and resolve family law issues in a fair, timely, efficient, and cost-effective method.  Though we have incredible and dedicated judges, clerks, and court staff who try their very best, it is still a very flawed system for helping families move on with their lives.

This post looks to compare these two UFCs.

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Money Talk 1010 AM: Introducing Collaborative Divorce

I recently had the opportunity to appear on the Let’s Talk Law radio program along with Licensed Mental Health Counselor Linda Peterman.  We were introducing collaborative divorce to the Tampa Bay listeners of Money Talk 1010 AM and had a great conversation with host Roxanne Wilder.

Collaborative divorce is a private form of dispute resolution where each spouse retains an attorney.  The attorneys only focus on negotiating an agreement, and they are contractually barred from engaging in contested court proceedings.  All negotiations are had in a private conference room rather than the public courthouse.

A neutral facilitator, who generally is licensed in a field of mental health, oftentimes helps the spouses focus on what is most important (such as the welfare of the children) rather than the arguments of the past.  A neutral financial professional, who has either a financial planning or accounting background, is frequently retained to efficiently ensure full financial transparency and aid the spouses to make the transition from married life to financially independent single life.

You can listen to the radio program, which was sponsored by Next Generation Divorce and aired on September 4, 2015 immediately after the Dave Ramsey Show, after the jump.

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Collaborative Divorce in Israel: The Peaceful Divorce

While Collaborative Divorce began in the United States in 1990 when Minnesota family law attorney Stu Webb declared that he would no longer take any new litigated cases, it has spread throughout the world to provide spouses with a private, respectful method to separate.

להתגרש בשלום

One such place that it has spread is Israel, where a practice group named “L’Hitgaresh B’Shalom” based out of Tel Aviv is teaching Israelis how they can constructively restructure their families.  L’Hitgaresh B’Shalom roughly translates as “The Peaceful Divorce,” “To Divorce in Peace,” or “Divorcing Peacefully.”  In a region that is oftentimes in the midst of physical battles, it is amazing that there are professionals who are attempting to insulate families from the destruction of court battles.

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Top 5 Reasons to Choose Collaborative Divorce

Divorce is difficult, but not all divorces are created equally.  Here in Tampa Bay and Greater Sarasota, more and more people are choosing to resolve their family law issues via the collaborative process.  Collaborative divorce is a method of dispute resolution where the spouses agree from the beginning that they are each going to retain attorneys who will work as settlement specialists and who will not engage in court battles.

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Video: Linda Solomon And The Neutral Facilitator Collaborative Divorce Model

Collaborative divorce has one simple requirement: The spouses must each retain attorneys who focus solely on helping them reach an agreement on all issues.  The collaborative attorneys are private problem-solving specialists, and they cannot be used in contested court hearings.  This requirement creates a safe, non-adversarial environment so that each spouse knows that the other spouse’s attorney is not attempting to gather information to use against him or her later in court.  It also ensures that resources are directed towards helping the clients reach an agreement rather than wasted in opposition research or dirty trial tactics.

There are many different models of collaborative divorce that are used throughout the world.  The model that is most frequently used here in Florida involves one neutral facilitator, who generally has a mental health background, and one neutral financial professional.  This model was created in Texas by, among others, Linda Solomon, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

You can learn more about Linda Solomon and the beginning of this model in the video below from Cutting Edge Law:

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The Origins of Collaborative Divorce: Stu Webb’s Letter

In 1990, a Minnesota family law attorney named Stu Webb began promoting what he deemed “Collaborative Law,” or the practice of law separating out trial work and creating negotiation specialists.  Collaborative Law is now used in Tampa Bay, throughout Florida, and around the world, as families have realized that they don’t want to be placed in the adversarial proceedings of trial practice for divorce and other personal matters.

On February 14, 1990, Webb wrote a letter to The Honorable A.M. “Sandy” Keith,
a Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, describing Collaborative Law.  Below is the text of the letter:

Dear Sandy:

I met you at a party at Steve & Marilyn Erickson’s several years ago. I was interested in your involvement with mediation. I also heard you talk last November at the Conference for Dispute Resolution Practitioners Seminar.

I, too, took Steve and Marilyn’s mediation training and have done mediation, mediation wrap-ups and, generally, have been vitally interested in exploring alternative dispute resolution in all its manifestations.

I think I’ve come up with a new wrinkle that I’d like to share with you. One of the aspects of mediation that I feel is a weakness is that it basically leaves out input by the lawyer at the early stages (sometimes that’s an advantage!). By that I don’t mean adversarial, contentious lawyering, but the analytical, reasoned ability to solve problems and generate creative alternatives and create a positive context for settlement. Of course, these attributes of good lawyering are not utilized greatly in the usual adversarial family law proceeding either.

But you and I have both experienced, I’m sure, those occasional times, occurring usually by accident, when in the course of attempting to negotiate a family law settlement, we find ourselves in a conference with the opposing counsel, and perhaps the respective clients, where the dynamics were such that in a climate of positive energy, creative alternatives were presented. In that context, everyone contributed to a final settlement that satisfied all concerned—and everyone left the conference feeling high energy, good feelings and satisfaction. More than likely, the possibility for a change in the way the parties related to each other in the future may have greatly increased. As a result, the lawyers may also develop a degree of trust between them that might make future dealings more productive. Read more

Five Stages of Grief In Divorce

In 1969, a Swiss psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, published a book in which she described the five stages of grief experienced by terminally-ill patients.  This work was later expanded to help explain the emotions of people who have lost a loved one and others experiencing personal loss, such as spouses going through divorce.

Divorce is a trauma, and anyone going through this trauma may be helped by speaking with a counselor or therapist.  Additionally, you should consider whether the collaborative family law process may be helpful to your family, as it is a private form of dispute resolution that generally involves a neutral facilitator, who usually has a mental health background.  This is in recognition that divorce is not just a legal matter, but also a highly emotional matter.

Regardless, below are the five stages of grief you may experience if you are going through divorce:

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Video: General’s Daughter Discusses Her Peaceful Divorce

Cynthia Schwarzkopf, daughter of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr, discusses how she and her husband utilized the collaborative family law process to dissolve her marriage in a video released by the Tampa Bay Collaborative Divorce Group.

You can see the video below the jump:

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A Non-Adversarial Divorce in Tampa Bay

When most people think of divorce, they think of a courthouse battle.  Florida’s court system pits husband versus wife, mother versus father, and what ensues is many times not too different from divorces depicted in War of the Roses or Kramer vs. Kramer.

But collaborative divorce is something different altogether.

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Tampa Bay Times Article on 2015 Florida Collaborative Divorce Bill

The Tampa Bay Times recently published an article on collaborative divorce.  The article quotes four local collaborative professionals (attorneys Ingrid Hooglander, Tanya O’Conner, and Mark Moon, and psychologist Rachel Moskowitz), all of whom are members of Next Generation Divorce, an interdisciplinary group of professionals dedicated to educating the public about a healthier way to resolve their family disputes.

The article also interviews State Senator Tom Lee of Brandon, who is the sponsor of Senate Bill 642, the Collaborative Law Practice Act.  Though collaborative law is already being practiced as a private way to resolve divorces and other family law issues in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida, the bill provides a legal framework for the process and adds protections to the privacy of communications during settlement talks.

Below is an excerpt:

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