Freezing High Conflict Divorce Litigation for the Collaborative Process

I strongly suggest that any person who is in the initial stages of a Florida divorce consider engaging in the collaborative process from the very beginning.  This simply means that each spouses hires an attorney solely for the purpose of helping them reach a divorce agreement.

The attorneys are contractually prohibited from wasting time and money on preparing for trial (90% or so of all divorce cases settle, yet millions and millions of dollars are spent each year preparing for a trial that rarely happens).  Discussions are held in a private, respectful, and transparent atmosphere, and other professionals are brought in as needed to tend to the parties’ financial and emotional needs.

But some clients are resistant to the collaborative process because of perceived cost issues or they feel they need to have a gunslinger to take out their spouse.  And many attorneys will not engage in the collaborative process because litigation work is pretty profitable or they have not invested the time and money in taking an introductory collaborative training.

And so there are plenty of divorce battles going on in the Florida court system.  It is not uncommon for those battles to go on for two, three, four, or more years, and for the parties to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, deposition fees, document production fees, forensic evaluation fees, court reporter fees, and so on, and feel no closer to a final resolution of their divorce.

But there is something that can be done to change the dynamics.

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What is the Purpose of Florida Family Law?

Anyone who has gone through a divorce, paternity, or other family law proceeding in Hillsborough County or elsewhere in Florida may have wondered: What is the purpose of Florida Family Law?

Well, section 61.001(2) purports to have an answer:

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Can I Now Divorce My Same-Sex Spouse in Florida?

Last week, Federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle clarified his ruling in Brenner v. Scott to state, definitively, that the U.S. Constitution requires Florida clerks of court to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  This has brought great jubilation that marriage equality is finally recognized in Florida.  Clerks throughout the state (including in my own Hillsborough County) have begun issuing marriage licenses, and some even have officiated over marriages.

Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court Pat Frank Officiates Over a Mass Same-Sex Wedding

Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court Pat Frank Officiates Over a Mass Same-Sex Wedding

However, is same-sex marriage yet completely equal in Florida?  Is it recognized for all purposes in Florida, including for purposes of dissolving that marriage?

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Podcast: Carrollwood Mental Health Counselor Discusses Collaborative Divorce

In the latest Divorce Without Destruction, host Garin Vick speaks with Linda Peterman, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.  Linda discusses her views on collaborative divorce as practiced in Carrollwood and the greater Tampa Bay area:

I happen to know Linda, as she has served as a Neutral Collaborative Facilitator in a collaborative case involving a client of mine.  She and I also serve on the Executive Board of Next Generation Divorce, Florida’s largest collaborative practice group.

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A Former Judge’s Take on the Family Court System

As a Florida family law attorney, I tell clients all the time that – for the sake of their children, finances, and sanity – it is best if divorcing spouses are able to reach an agreement on their own, without leaving important decisions that will affect the rest of their lives up to a judge.  I have found that interdisciplinary collaborative practice is the best way for families to reach a resolution, though other options (such as mediation and direct negotiations) are also almost always better than the court system.

Sue Cochrane, who served as a family law judge in Minnesota, also believes that the current family court system is broken.  Below are excerpts of an article she penned for The Collaborative Review (Winter 2014 / Volume 15, Issue 1):

After eighteen years on the family bench I am sensitive to the needs of the thousands who still show up [to court] due to lack of funds or awareness of other options.  Having Collaborative practitioners and others from diverse disciplines working side-by side with those of us from the courts was, in my opinion, a monumental advancement.

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The law is well-known for being logical and dispassionate.  Courts are where intellect and linear, analytic thinking prevails.  In the admirable pursuit of truth and justice, the courts can inadvertently deny the humanity of the people it is supposed to serve and even of the judges and staff who work there.

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Is it too Late to Restore My Maiden Name in Florida?

In Florida, as in most other jurisdictions, women can restore their maiden name as part of the divorce process.  However, for a lot of reasons, many women keep their married name.

Sometimes it is so they can maintain the same last name as their minor children, making it easier to communicate with school and healthcare officials.  Sometimes it is related to their employment, and they do not want to disrupt an earned reputation by altering their name.  And sometimes it is because they simply did not know they had the option to restore their name in divorce proceedings.

So, after divorce, is it too late to restore a maiden name?

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Florida Same-Sex Annulment

As Florida does not currently recognize same-sex marriages, some judges have interpreted the state’s ban as precluding them from granting same-sex divorces.  I am involved in a case in which two women married in Massachusetts, moved to Florida, and separated.  They utilized the interdisciplinary collaborative process to come to a full settlement agreement and filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in Tampa.  The judge ultimately denied their petition, determining that she did not have jurisdiction to dissolve that which the state does not recognize.

And we appealed.  This has become the first divorce matter in Florida to challenge Article I, Section 27 of the Florida Constitution banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

In the meantime, the gay marriage ban is still in effect.  So is there anything that same-sex spouses can do to legally end their marriage in Florida?

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Advanced Training: Get More Collaborative Cases!

Are you an attorney, mental health professional, financial professional, or mediator who wants to build a profitable and satisfying collaborative practice?  Do you want more collaborative cases? Next Generation Divorce has a training geared to you:

Woody Mosten is Coming to Tampa February 27-28, 2015.  Click Here To Learn More

Forrest “Woody” Mosten has an international reputation for high quality Mediation and Collaborative training from introductory courses to advanced supervision for highly experienced peacemakers. He maintains an intense focus on cutting edge issues in law and the craft of conflict resolution skill building, and enjoys helping other professionals build their own profitable practices.

Woody Mosten’s Training is an Approved Continuing Education Provider by the California State Bar CLE & Family Law Specialization, the California Psychological Association Accrediting Agency, and the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Most courses are approved by the Association for Conflict Resolution and may qualify for credit by other agencies and organizations throughout the world.

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Podcast: Comparing Collaborative Divorce and Mediation

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Garin Vick in Tampa, Florida, where we recorded an interview for his podcast show, Divorce without Destruction.  We discussed the similarities and differences between collaborative divorce and mediation.

We talked about how both are forms of private dispute resolution that are better than duking it out in court.  We also discussed how the structure and the process of collaborative divorce and mediation differ, and what it means for families going through or considering divorce.

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Florida Collaborative Divorce: A Flowchart

Many people come to my Tampa office because they heard collaborative divorce is private, respectful, conducive to co-parenting, and usually quicker than the traditional courtroom divorce.  But they do not quite understand logistically how the collaborative process works.

The first thing to understand is that each party is represented by his or her own attorney whose sole purpose is to help the parties reach a settlement.  The attorneys are contractually barred from engaging in costly, damaging contested court battles.  If parties want to fight one another in the court system, they must choose different litigation attorneys.

A neutral facilitator, who usually is licensed in a mental health profession, is involved in most collaborative cases.  The facilitator not only helps the parties (and attorneys) focus on the future rather than rehash the arguments of the past, but he or she also teaches the parties communication and dispute resolution techniques that will help them and their families long after the divorce is finalized.

A neutral financial professional is also oftentimes used to efficiently ensure financial transparency between the parties, to develop personally-tailored options for support and the division of assets and debts, and to help the clients budget to give them the best chance for financial security once their divorce is finalized.

Some folks are visual learners, and so my firm has created a flowchart that shows how a collaborative case might proceed.  Please understand that, depending on the facts of your case and the needs of your family, your collaborative divorce process may be customized differently:

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