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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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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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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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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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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 Florida Alimony Reform Bill Vetoed

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Florida Governor Rick Scott has vetoed SB 668, a bill that was intended to make large-scale changes to the state’s alimony and child custody laws.

Rick Scott (cropped).jpg

For the first time, the bill was set to create alimony guidelines that calculated a presumptive range for the amount and length of spousal support.  Further, the bill would have directed judges, when establishing custody schedules, to start out with the premise that each parent should have approximately an equal amount of time with children.

It was that second point that seemed to be the sticking point for Governor Scott.

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Face-to-Face Mediation

I have noticed lately that there is a trend among divorce mediators in Tampa Bay: keep spouses separate from one another.  This is known as “caucus”-style mediation, where the spouses are kept in separate rooms from the very beginning of mediation, and the mediator travels back and forth between the rooms relaying information and offers.

There is a good reason why many great mediators prefer caucus-style mediation.  As divorce is a highly-emotional process, spouses can set each other off when they are facing one another, and negotiations can descend into argument and cease being productive.

I can see where caucus-style mediation may be appropriate for some families, but it is not my preferred method.

acordover_logoRather, when I act as the neutral mediator, I prefer to practice face-to-face mediation.

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