Research Findings on Collaborative Divorce from England and Wales

In June 2014, United Kingdom researchers Anne Barlow, Rosemary Hunter, Janet Smithson, and Jan Ewing published a research paper titled Mapping Paths to Family Justice.  The paper was based on research sponsored by the University of Exeter, the University of Kent, and the Economic & Research Council and which compared various forms of private forms of dispute resolution for divorce, including collaborative practice.

As collaborative divorce is relatively new in England and Wales, there were comparatively few respondents for the research, so it may not be representative of all collaborative cases.  Nonetheless, it may be helpful for Florida families and collaborative practitioners to review the results.

The study reviews three types of private forms of family dispute resolution.  One type, solicitor negotiation, isn’t exactly utilized in Florida as we do not have do not have a distinction between solicitors and barristers, we just have attorneys.  Either way, below are the definitions used for each process that was analyzed:

  1. Solicitor negotiation – Solicitors engage in a process of correspondence and discussion to broker a solution on behalf of their clients without going to court.
  2. Mediation – Both parties attempt to resolve issues relating to their separation with the assistance of a professional family mediator.
  3. Collaborative law – Each party is represented by their own lawyer, negotiations are conducted face to face in four-way meetings between the parties and their lawyers, with all parties agreeing not to go to court.

Below are some of the main findings and recommendations on divorces that used the collaborative law process:

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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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Podcast: Forrest “Woody” Mosten on Building a Collaborative Practice

Forrest “Woody” Mosten, an internationally renowned collaborative professional and mediator and author of the Collaborative Divorce Handbook, The Complete Guide to Mediation, and Unbundling Legal Services, was recently in Tampa to put on a workshop sponsored by Next Generation Divorce.

During a lunch break at the workshop, Woody spoke with Dr. Garin Vick for his podcast show, Divorce Without Destruction.  Woody and Garin discussed how attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals could build a full-time peacemaking practice.  Again, this was recorded during a lunch break of a two-day conference, so the audio is not the greatest, but Woody offers great advice for divorce professionals who want to help their clients via collaborative practice and other non-litigation methods.

This podcast may be of interest not only to professionals, but also to divorcing spouses to get a glimpse of the passion that collaborative professionals tend to have for helping their clients:

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2015 Florida Alimony Reform – Proposed Factors for Alimony

In a previous post, I wrote about Florida House Bill 943 and the proposed alimony guidelines contained in the bill.  Florida currently has no guidelines for alimony, and the bill creates formulas which would implement presumptive ranges for the amount and duration of alimony that a judge could order, making awards more predictable.

As an update to my prior post, HB 943 has been amended.  As of the date I am writing this, the years of marriage is multiplied by 1.5%, rather than 1.25%, in the formula to determine the low amount of alimony that a judge could order.  There are likely to be more changes to the bill before the it passes both houses of the Florida legislature and is signed into law (if, indeed, it makes it that far).

So, if the alimony guidelines become official, where in the range of amount and duration of alimony will any particular award fall?  The bill sets out certain factors to help a judge make this decision:

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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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Florida Alimony Reform 2015 – Florida Alimony Guidelines

Many people are surprised to learn that, currently, Florida has no alimony guidelines.  Rather, it has a bunch of factors that a judge considers, such as lifestyle of the parties, each spouses’ contribution to the marriage, and the age and physical condition of each.  This has left many clients frustrated when they ask their attorneys how much alimony they should expect to pay or receive.

House Bill 943 looks to change this.

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Florida Same-Sex Marriage – Will I Be On My Child’s Birth Certificate?

It has long been the law in Florida that when a child is born during an intact marriage between a man and a woman, the husband shall be placed on the birth certificate.  Generally, this is the case even if the husband is not the biological father of the child; the right of the child to be considered “legitimate” is so strong that is does not matter whether there is an actual genetic connection between the child and the father.

Now that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge and marriage licenses are being provided to same-sex couples, will a hospital put a woman on a birth certificate if her wife gives birth?

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Podcast: Mindful Co-Parenting Parts 1 & 2

Tampa Bay Psychologists Jeremy Gaies and James Morris were recently on the Divorce Without Destruction Podcast to discuss their book, Mindful Co-Parenting.  The also discussed the interdisciplinary collaborative family law process.

Mindful Co-Parenting is an instructive, supportive, and easy to read book for parents who are going through divorce (or for parents who were never married but are coming up with a parenting plan/custody schedule for their children). You can find both Part 1 and Part 2 of the podcast, hosted by Dr. Garin Vick, below (Part 2 is after the jump):

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Is Florida’s Gay Adoption Ban Still On The Books?

Most people know that, for a long time, Florida did not permit gay individuals to adopt children.

Florida’s adoption laws were and are mainly based on the best interests of the child.  Even if a prospective adoptive parent were a convicted violent felon, the felony likely would not automatically prevent an adoption from happening; the judge would need to entertain evidence and make a determination about whether, despite the felony, the adoption was in the best interests of the adoptee.

But if a prospective adoptive parent were gay, and the judge knew this fact, there would be no analysis.  A gay person was not permitted under Florida law to adopt a child, regardless of whether it was in the child’s best interest.

However, that all changed in 2010, when Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals published its decision in In re the Adoption of XXG and NRG.

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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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