One of the most frustrating experiences I have as a mediator is when the final resolution of equitable distribution comes down to a disagreement about the value of a home or other real property. The reason this is so frustrating is that it is so simple to avoid. If you own real property, ensure that you have the information needed to substantiate your value before the mediation. The most authoritative basis would be an appraisal of the property. This can be done for a few hundred dollars and is well worth the investment. If the parties do not want to invest in this analysis, they may decide to obtain a comparative market analysis from a local real estate broker. This can be particularly helpful if the parties anticipate selling the home. Hopefully the parties can agree to the selection of a well respected professional, either appraiser or realtor, to conduct the review and use this number provided by an agreed upon neutral professional. If the parties cannot agree, then they can agree to each select one and then have them choose a third to use. Alternatively, each can have a professional for their own use during the mediation and then negotiate between the two numbers provided. Most importantly, if one party comes with a legitimate number from a professional and the other comes with nothing but their opinion, the second will be at a sever disadvantage in the negotiations. I would also remind you that this lack of information includes simply having an opinion from a website such as Zillow or Realtor. While these sites offer some insight, they are certainly not nearly as authoritative nor as complete as a comprehensive study from a professional.
It is that time of year again, when I present the Case Law Review at the Annual Family Law Professional Collaborative Conference. And, after each conference I provide my case law review to those who may be interested in how family law has developed over the last year.
This year one important development is the approval of Collaborative Law Rules of Procedure. With the approval of these rules, the Collaborative Law Act goes into effect.
In addition, there were a number of significant cases decided over the past 12 months. One that I found particularly interesting is the Rosaler v. Rosaler case, in which the Wife spent almost one million dollars for her attorneys, accountants, Guardian Ad Litem and costs. If ever there was a case that showed the benefits of a collaborative approach to divorce, this case is it.
You can find the complete case law review HERE
You have options on how to finalize your divorce. And the costs will depend on the method you select. The Court fee for filing a divorce is approximately $395 and is the same no matter what method you select.
DO IT YOURSELF DIVORCE
You can download the Florida Supreme Court forms for free, fill them in with your spouse and file them yourselves and then proceed through the court process. The only cost is the filing fee. However, you must consider the length of time this will take you to prepare the forms without assistance and to process the forms through the court process which may take many months.
There are paralegal services that will help you fill in the Florida Supreme Court forms. These services cannot prepare any documents other than the standard forms and cannot offer any legal advice. They also cannot file the case for you and obtain the Final Judgment on your behalf. The costs for the assistance to prepare the forms is approximately $400 to $800.
FLAT FEE DIVORCE
My office can assist you in preparing all documents necessary to obtain a final judgment of dissolution. This includes a Marital Settlement Agreement drafted by the attorney and a Parenting Plan if necessary also prepared by the attorney. In addition, there are a number of pleadings that must be presented to the court will be prepared and presented to the Judge. We will then file the final documents necessary to obtain the Final Judgment on your behalf. In many cases this process can be completed in less than a month. The cost of this services is $1,500 for a divorce without children and $2,000 for a divorce with minor children.
I am also a Supreme Court Certified Mediator and can assist you and your spouse to negotiate the terms of a Marital Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan if you and your spouse are struggling with the terms. As the mediator I cannot file the final documents but can assist you through the process or refer you to an attorney to complete the process. The cost of this service is $300 per hour but the final cost will depend upon the number of issues to be addressed and the number of meetings necessary to resolve the issues. Each meeting last approximately two hours and normally there are on average between three to five meetings.
As a Board Certified Marital and Family Attorney I can represent you in a collaborative divorce process when there are more difficult issues to be decided. My fees for this representation of a party in a collaborative divorce is $350 per hour. This process also includes a neutral financial professional, a neutral facilitator and a collaborative attorney for your spouse. While this process is certainly more expensive than the options above, it is much less expensive than the average fully litigated divorce. A comparison of the Collaborative Process for a case with minor children to a fully litigated divorce can be found here.
A LITIGATED DIVORCE
My office does not represent clients in this process. I stopped handling litigated divorces in 2012 after many years of assisting clients through this process. Part of the reason for this is the extreme costs involved which I did not find in my client’s best interest. Some cases require litigation to resolve the issues, but I strongly advise clients to consider if this is necessary and the costs involved. A comparison of the costs of a Collaborative Divorce and a Litigated Divorce can be found here.
Florida has joined thirteen other states and the District of Columbia that have enacted a Collaborative Law Act and accompanying Family Law Rules of Procedure for Collaborative Law in Family Law cases. The new law and rules went into effect July 1, 2017. Many of us have been utilizing the Collaborative Process in Divorce, Paternity, Prenuptial Agreements and other areas of family law for many years, however, now it is governed by rules and regulations, making it more recognized and uniform. The stated purpose of the act is to create a uniform system of practice to “encourage the peaceful resolution of disputes and the early settlement of pending litigation through voluntary settlement procedures” and to preserve the working relationship between parties to a dispute through a non-adversarial method that reduces the emotional financial toll of litigants”
The Collaborative Law Process begins when the parties enter into a collaborative law participation agreement. If a legal case has already been filed with the Court, the case is put on hold until the collaborative process is concluded or terminated. By entering into the process, the parties agree that the process shall be confidential and prevent disclosure of communications made during the process to any court should the process break down and litigation ensue. In addition, the agreement must provide that, should the collaborative process terminate without an agreement all attorneys must withdraw from representation. By eliminating the possibility that either attorney will assist the clients in any litigation, the attorneys are free to devote their full effort to achieving a settlement in an efficient and cooperative manner.
Collaborative Practice has been around for over twenty years and has successfully assisted many families to resolve their family law matters without the time, expense and stress of litigation. The parties work with a team of trained professionals consisting of the individual attorneys representing each party, a Neutral Financial Professional and a Neutral Facilitator to resolve the issues of their divorce, paternity or other family law matter in a non-adversarial way.
The full text of the Florida Statute can be found here and the full text of the Florida Rules related to Collaborative Practice can be found here. If you would like to learn more about how Collaborative Procedures could assist your family in resolving your matter, please contact our office at 941-228-8571.
Each year I am honored to provide the Florida Case Review for the 12th Judicial Circuit Family Court Professional Collaborative Annual Conference. Please click 2016-marital-and-family-law-review-course-materials to see my case law review for the year (November 2015 – October 2016). Enjoy.
Karen E. Rushing, Clerk of Court and County Comptroller, Sarasota County, Florida
Family Court Filings increased by 4 percent in 2015 in Sarasota County.
My local Attorney Bar Newspaper for Sarasota County, The Docket, had an article from our Clerk of Court, Karen E. Rushing. She provided a three-year review of cases filed in her jurisdiction. According to her statistics, many areas of case filings were down over the past three-year period. However, the area of Family Law had a four percent increase in filings; from 3,954 in 2014 to 4,110 in 2015. (The Docket, February 2016, Karen E. Rushing)
I am conducting a survey of Collaborative Law Cases in our area presently, and so far I am aware of at least 40 cases handled in a collaborative manner last year. While I am very happy to see that this number of families have been helped by this team approach to family law, I am extremely sad to see that this is still less than one percent of the total number of filings. This means that 99% of the families going through difficult transitions of divorce, post-divorce and paternity issues are not being assisted with a collaborative team approach to resolving their case.
I would love to see these numbers reversed. I know that a few people need to resort to the courts to resolve differences of opinion about their divorce or paternity cases. These people may have families that suffer from domestic violence or such severe disagreements that the only way to resolve the case is by having the intervention of a Judge to decide the case. Yet I also know that the vast majority of cases would be better served by the guidance of collaboratively trained attorneys, financial and mental health professionals to find solutions that best suit their family.
If you would like to learn more about how your family can avoid the costs, time delays, anxiety and conflict of litigation please contact my office to learn more about the Collaborative Law Process and how it can help you and your family. Visit my Website for more information: www.odayresolutions.com
Once You have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished. Dean Koontz
Soon after my last dog, Sally Mae Ride Astronaut Girl Dog, (my family believes that dogs with longer names seem to have more importance) passed away suddenly from cancer, my daughter and I decided to visit the local animal shelter to find a new dog to join our family. Before we left home I made a list of my priorities for the new dog: It would be smaller than Sally who was a Gordon Setter mix, it would definitely have short hair (dear Sally had left piles of her hair around my house during her life), and it would be female as they are calmer and easier to train (sorry guys, but you know it is true). With my relatively short list in hand, we traveled to Bishop Animal Shelter in Bradenton. As soon as we got there and started to walk through the aisles of the kennel, my heart was touched by one dog that was so happy looking despite the small conditions allotted to each dog. I asked my daughter how she felt about the dog and she was also immediately drawn to the dog’s bright eyes, expressive face and wagging tail. We asked to meet the dog and right away I knew this was the one. We named the dog Shorty and took him home. So, how did I do with my list of priorities? Shorty was a one year old male Rottweiler Shar Pei mix bread (we call him a Ra-pei) and weighs about 65 pounds. Okay, he has short hair but pretty much failed on all other must-have criteria. But we love him!
So, what does this story have to do with negotiations and mediation? Actually a lot! Very often I see people come to negotiations with a checklist and if they don’t get everything on their list they will not agree to anything. They may have very good reasons for the things on the list and they believe that without attaining each of their goals the negotiations will be a failure and they will leave. In negotiation parlance we call this positional bargaining. This means a person takes a position and will not move from it. They are not open to options that may meet underlying needs or desires if it is not a complete match to their pre-decided list. Had I approached the search for a new dog this way, I would have walked into the shelter and told the clerk at the front desk my list: female, small, calm, short haired. The clerk would have evaluated my list and told me if there were any dogs that met my priorities and if not I would have left. Instead, the clerk invited me to walk through all of the kennels and see if I found the right dog. By exploring options, I found the right dog for my family, now named Einstein Short Tail Entomologist Guy Dog (I won’t explain this name but there is a lot of irony in his name, which is obvious when you meet this bug hunter). I was open to the possibilities outside my initial position and because of this we have a happy, funny boy in our family that has brought us years of joy and security. My interests were met by this happy dog who fits in with our family, even if he does not exactly match my initial position. So, when you enter into negotiations, make your list of goals, prioritize them in importance (short hair was clearly a deal breaker for me) and then be open to the possibility that there may be other ways to achieve happiness that you have not thought of yet.
I was driving back from the grocery store this morning and listening to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS show. He had a group discussion that made me wait for the conclusion of the segment before taking my groceries into the house. The topic was international peace negotiations with the lead guest being our former Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt. She was discussing a peace negotiation that she had been involved with to bring peace to the Balkans. I was particularly interested in this as I was working with the UNHCR in Croatia during this same time. The negotiations had been very difficult and complicated. When the day came to sign the agreement finally reached she said she looked out at the room filled with men in grey suits and it hit her. Perhaps it was the lack of women at the table that made the negotiations difficult. When she then discussed with women around the world why they were not included she was told that the warlords did not want the women there because they “would be more likely to compromise”. After all the men with the guns had a specific agenda and they wanted to negotiate from a place of power and the women had different priorities.
In fact, the women did have different priorities, and these included peace, security for their children, and the ability to provide their family with stability, education and health care. This is not to say that many men don’t also have these as priorities for their society but the political and military men who were negotiating for land, rights to assets and power were not the men that may have these priorities. The results are that the international negotiations are too often inclusive of only one group, the ones with the guns that benefit from war or at least “power negotiations”. As was discussed in the piece on GPS, this too often make negotiations difficult and the agreements reached tenuous.
The lessons to be learned from this piece struck me hard. Almost all of the negotiations that I am involved in on a daily basis do include women as they mostly involve family negotiations and mediation. However, the participants may approach the negotiation priorities very differently. It is important to ensure that everyone is clear on the goals of a lasting agreement. Also, it is important to ensure that all parties affected by the agreement have a voice at the table. The children are usually not included in the adult negotiations of divorce and sometimes the elder suffering severe dementia or health problems are not included in negotiations that seek to resolve their situation. However, it is often helpful to have a picture of these “parties” present at the negotiations to keep them “present” while we discuss their priorities. In more expansive societal negotiations, whether it be community relations, politics or international peace negotiations, it is critical that we include representatives from all aspects of the society at the table.
For more information on Swanee Hunt and her programs to include women on an international scale, please visit her website https://www.swaneehunt.com/
As the year comes to an end there is one thing I always try to do and I want to recommend to you as well. I take a few days near the end of every year to evaluate what has transpired over the past twelve months. I consider what went right and what went wrong. I actually put pen to paper and write down a list of the highs and the lows.
Then I examine the highs with gratitude. I consider each one as a gift. Some were given to me by others or the universe. I am thankful for my beautiful daughter and the wonderful things she has accomplished throughout the year. I am thankful for the others in my circle of family and friends and the joy that each has brought me. And I am blessed to live in Florida where it never gets too cold and I can take a break to walk on the beach anytime I want. These things I have been lucky to have in my life, provided by the universe. I am also thankful for my clients and the opportunity that they have given me to help them through difficult situations. They have trusted me to assist them as they go through a divorce, paternity or other legal matter. Many lawyers find working in Family Law challenging because our clients are under a lot of stress and confusion. But this is not the case in my practice. Because I have chosen to help people in a non-litigated way through these complex transitions, I am able to help them avoid the stress and anxiety that too often accompanies divorce or other family law matters.
When I consider the “lows” of the past year, I try to look at the list with some gratitude as well. Perhaps it is for the lessons I learned such as when I learned that I never wanted to represent a person in a litigated divorce after a year of lows for the anxiety that my clients and I felt. This year one of my “lows” included needing surgery on my ankle and having three months of pain and recovery. But then I must be grateful for the wonderful skills of my surgeon that could perform the operation and that I live in a time when we have the technological skills and equipment to allow this to happen. Generally, I have to say, that this year the list of lows was pretty small. Another blessing.
After making the list of last year, I begin to plan for the year to come. I use the assessment of my highs and lows to reevaluate my practice to see if there are things I should change to make it bigger, better, stronger. I consider how I can improve my health, relationships and spiritual connections. I set goals (not resolutions, those don’t work) and plan some initial actions to begin the year in the right direction. Again, I actually write these down. And at the end of the year I can use this list to evaluate how I did over the past 12 months and where I have to put my attention to achieve my real goals.
I want to recommend this process to my clients, colleagues and friends. In this hectic and overwhelming time that we live, it is important to take a bit of time for yourself to practice some gratitude and makes some plans. I know that, particularly for my clients who are going through stressful times it may be difficult to think of what you are grateful for. However, when times are tough it is even more important to take stock and find the things that are working right.
So, here is to an exceptional, outstanding and wonderful 2016. May you all have many blessings to count this time next year.