Surrogacy Law Leaves Baby Boy Parentless – Time for Change?

A baby boy born to a surrogate mother as part of a commercial surrogacy arrangement has been left without a legally recognised parent in the UK due to a curiosity in the law. The surrogacy arrangement was made between an American mother and a UK man, however a UK court refused to recognise the man as the boy’s father because he is single.

The boy was born just over one year ago in Minnesota after the father paid £30,000 to become a parent using his own sperm, a donor egg and a surrogate mother. Whilst the man is genetically the boy’s father and is recognised as the boy’s sole parent by an American court, even with complete agreement from the surrogate mother the UK courts cannot legally formalise the agreement under the law. This has meant that the boy is left without a family and is a ward of the court under the law.

The case has highlighted a glaring problem in the legal framework and one which seems to be contrary to equality principles. senior Family Judge Sir James Munby, stated that this could not be a permanent solution but that he did not have the power to grant a parenting order to the man.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 dictates that parenting orders in surrogacy cases may only be granted to couples. Couples may be married or cohabiting and same-sex or heterosexual. However, the law on surrogacy does not match that of adoption where single people are permitted to become parents.

Sir James Munby in his judgement outlined that parliament discussed amending the law around seven years ago to enable single parents to be granted parenting orders however, this was not carried forward. It was considered by parliament that surrogacy is a fundamentally different arrangement to adoption or IVF treatment as the woman is making the agreement to hand over the child to someone else prior to conception, the junior health minister of the time stated that this arrangement was of such ‘magnitude’ that it required a couple. However the Barrister working on behalf of the man involved, Elizabeth Isaacs QC, outlines that the couple requirement was an offence to the principles of 21st Century family, she said there should be:

“no discrimination against the increasingly different kinds of family which society is creating” and added that the welfare of the boy which should be the courts primary consideration is not being properly served by his current circumstances. However, as the law is clearly stated in primary legislation, it will be up to parliament to rectify the law before the boys arrangements can be changed.

Sir James Munby discussed the difference in the law of adoption and surrogacy describing it as “both very striking and, in my judgment, very telling”. He highlighted that it must represent a clear difference of policy as both in 1990 when the law was created and in 2008 when it was again discussed, Parliament determined that surrogacy required a couple and thus a distinction from the law of adoption. However, this case may pave the way for a change in the law as it will still be open to the man to bring a legal challenge claiming that the law under the 2008 Act is incompatible with human rights, given the situation the he and his biological son now find themselves in.

 

Image credit: Norbert Eder, Flickr

Ashley Madison Account Hacked? Well, Your Divorce Can Still Be Private

As the Tampa Bay Times reported a few months ago, a website hack has meant that thousands of spouses have been caught red-handed while trying to cheat. AshleyMadison.com, a website that bills itself as “the most famous name in infidelity and married dating,” was targeted by a “hacktivist” group who made public the website’s clientele list and their personal information.

This hack has left many marriages on the rocks. No matter how you look at it, divorce is difficult, and so hopefully most of the marriages can be saved with the help of trusted clergy or a marriage and family therapist. But the train may have already left the station for many of the marriages.

Though the hack may have made Ashley Madison’s clientele list public, separating spouses can still maintain a modicum of dignity and keep the details of their divorce private. The collaborative divorce process gives spouses the opportunity to spare their children, family, friends, and others from learning the specifics of why they are separating by resolving their divorce issues in private conference rooms rather than in a public courthouse. In collaborative divorce there are no court reporters, no transcripts, and no judging by a public official.

The collaborative process is a voluntary process, and so each spouse must agree to it. They each retain attorneys who pledge to focus solely on helping the spouses reach a full out-of-court settlement; the attorneys are contractually-barred from engaging in costly and destructive contested proceedings (they cannot file contested pleadings or motions, and they cannot appear at trials or other hearings where the parties are not in agreement).

This means that, unlike the traditional divorce process, spouses in the collaborative process are not seen as “opposing parties” but as teammates. Attorneys do not use their legal skills to engage in opposition research, but to help the clients reach an agreement that is acceptable to both.

As a spouse may have been caught cheating, there is likely to be a lot of anger and mistrust. The collaborative model recognizes that divorce is not just a legal process, but also an emotional process. This is why a neutral facilitator, who generally has mental health training, is usually engaged to help spouses cut through the emotional clutter that might otherwise block an agreement and help them focus on the future and what is most important to them (i.e., the children).

In any divorce, Florida law requires there to be certain financial disclosure. In the traditional divorce, financial documents and information are made part of the court record. In a collaborative divorce, a neutral financial professional is oftentimes engaged to serve as a repository of the spouses’ financial information and ensure that they can verify the other spouse’s information. The financial professional can also help develop support and asset distribution options that are specifically tailored to the particular family and ensure that both parties have a financial plan to help them transition from married to single life.

Though your Ashley Madison account may have been made public, the details of your divorce can still remain private via the collaborative process.

If you have questions about divorce, schedule a consultation with Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

Adam B. Cordover is managing attorney at Family Diplomacy and now practices exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution. He is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) and Florida’s largest collaborative practice group. He is also on the Executive Board of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida and on the Research Committee of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

Tampa Divorce Lawyer Rejects Court System

The court system publicly pits husband versus wife, mother versus father, according to collaborative lawyer Adam B. Cordover. On the heels of the fifth anniversary of his law firm, he declares that he will no longer take part and announces his firm’s new focus and name as Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm.

TAMPA, FLORIDA (PRWEB) AUGUST 07, 2015

“When a person steps into a courthouse to file for divorce, he or she is entering an adversarial system pitting spouse versus spouse,” says Tampa attorney Adam B. Cordover. He has seen families publicly tear themselves apart in the court system, and he has decided to do something about it. Cordover will now practice exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution, with a focus on collaborative divorce, mediation, direct negotiations, and unbundled legal services.

And on July 31, 2015, the fifth anniversary of the establishment of The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., Cordover has changed his firm’s name to reflect this new focus. His firm is now “Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm.”

“We have wonderful and caring judges, but they are limited in a system that turns parents into ‘opposing parties’ and attorneys into opposition research experts,” says Cordover, who will no longer appear in contested court hearings. “There are better, private methods, such as collaborative divorce, to help families resolve their differences and still maintain a relationship and their dignity once the divorce is finalized.”

Collaborative divorce, sometimes called collaborative law or collaborative practice, starts with a pledge by both spouses and their attorneys: Everyone will focus solely on reaching an agreement outside of court. In the unlikely event that the parties cannot reach an agreement, the collaborative attorneys withdraw and the parties may retain trial counsel (nationally, the collaborative success rate is around 90%, similar to the settlement rate of all divorces).

Each spouse in a collaborative divorce is represented by his/her own attorney, who will not waste any time, money, or energy on costly discovery tactics, motion practice, or trial preparation. Confidential discussions are had in private conference rooms rather than hearings in public courtrooms. The spouses agree to be open, honest, and transparent, and to focus on the future rather than the arguments of the past. The spouses and their attorneys work as a team to address all issues rather than as adversaries to attack each other. Experts are jointly retained to help tailor parenting plans specific to their children’s needs and financial solutions to help each spouse hit the ground running in their newly single lives.

All types of couples have decided that collaborative practice is right for them: business owners who want to minimize public exposure of their finances or trade secrets; professionals and high-profile individuals who want to keep embarrassing private personal details out of the limelight; gay and lesbian partners who never were officially married but want to work out the dissolution of their relationship; and parents who recognize that, though their marriage may be ending, a relationship of some sort will need to continue with the other parent for many years to come.

“My goal is to help families resolve their divorce issues as peacefully as possible,” says Cordover. “I have witnessed ‘War of the Roses’ and ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ divorces, and I no longer wish to be a part of them.”

Learn more at www.FamilyDiplomacy.com or 813.443.0615.

Parents defending themselves after Legal Aid Cuts could be damaging for Children

As legal aid availability continues to be cut, an increasing number of parents with little to no legal knowledge are being forced to represent themselves in Court for family cases.

Most of these cases are situations whereby custody or time splits for children from an estranged or separated couple is being decided. Whilst finding adequate legal support for low income parents has always been a struggle, since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2013, which was defeated 14 times in the House of Lords, the problem has undoubtedly become far more serious.

Solicitor firm providers by category of civil legal aid work (Government Statistics)

Financial Year/Quarter Legal Help Mediation Civil Representation
2012-13 Apr-Jun 2,570 148 2,683
Jul-Sep 2,490 146 2,647
Oct-Dec 2,456 144 2,639
Jan-Mar 2,384 150 2,645
2013-14 Apr-Jun 2,381 166 2,596
Jul-Sep 2,294 176 2,536
Oct-Dec 2,199 172 2,665
Jan-Mar 2,124 168 2,547
2014-15 Apr-Jun 2,065 155 2,459
Jul-Sep 1,926 153 2,365
Oct-Dec 1,846 162 2,321
Jan-Mar 1,830 159 2,224

 

As this table (1) shows, the number of solicitor firms that have been providing legal aid has decreased significantly over the last three years, whilst the number of firms providing legal aid for mediation proceedings has not changed much over time.

The consequences of this drop in legal aid providers has been a dramatic drop in access to legal aid, with overall legal aid provision in 2012-13 dropping by more than 500,000 to 1.6 million cases. More specifically, family hearing legal aid provision dropped by 200,000 to 132,000 and social welfare legal aid dropped by 230,000 to 65,000.

family-law-legal-aid-damage-children

In almost every type of case, legal aid provision has dropped significantly, with criminal cases experiencing the least withdrawal of legal aid support.

The LASPO 2012 Act, which was enacted in 2013, took legal aid off the table for family cases (unless there was proof of domestic violence) and housing and debt cases (unless they significantly impacted the family) and most clinical negligence cases.

Resulting issues

The inevitable truth is that the vast majority of cases where legal aid has been removed involve people who are vulnerable due to poverty, abuse and lack of access to education.

Another resultant issue is that increasing instances of self representation is leading to cases that do not take into account how long the case takes to complete, or the impacts of a contested hearing.

Increased self-representation has inevitably lead to more extended hearings, which are clogging up the system as legal definitions and paperwork issues cause delays. Without appropriate legal knowledge, both parties in a custody hearing are likely to lack legal sense, be less clear and cause confusion in arguments.

A confused and extended hearing is liable to create more animosity and frustration, which will only negatively impact the child further.

“The Children Act says that the welfare of the child is paramount in these cases, which is a given. But it also says delay is the enemy of a child’s best interests, and so anything which means that the resolution of a child’s interests takes longer, must be damaging to the child.”
– Crispin Masterman (Family Judge)

Potential solutions

The government has suggested that in decreasing the provision of legal aid, they are encouraging families and parties to seek mediation rather than attempting to represent themselves in Court. This works well in theory, as mediation is often more amicable and can lead to a smoother settlement.

However, the table shows that people are not seeking mediation, with the instances of mediation barely changing whilst self-representation rises and legal aid drops.

The Ministry of Justice has put into action changes to provide legal aid for mediation hearings for both parties, and hopefully this will result in an increase in this cheaper, quicker and less stressful alternative to the court system being taken up more frequently, although as I have commented in an article for ADR Times, this move does have all the hallmarks of ‘using a sticking plaster to treat a severed limb’.

Conclusion

The continuing consequences of the LASPO 2012 Act are still being realised, but support and solutions are being put into place. The Ministry of Justice is aware of the weaknesses in the decision, but looks likely to stay the course; it will attempt to improve the civil justice system in the long run, whilst fighting the teething issues that the current system is showing.

Although these changes will save the government money, until sustainable long term solutions are available to those who truly need legal help, the vulnerable and those in poverty will suffer in the short term.

In the meantime, there are non-governmental directions a worried parent or spouse can take. There are no-win, no-fee lawyers (that will still end up costing you) and there are also legal charities that are able to support some cases (but still not enough).

Grandparents: the silent sufferers when their children get divorced

When parents get divorced, they are encouraged to sort out arrangements for any children between themselves, so that things can remain as amicable as possible. The best interests of the children should be the focal consideration and both parents should continue to have a strong involvement in their lives, so long as there are no welfare issues to consider.

The concept of ‘custody’ was traditionally used to define who children of divorce would predominantly live with; however, this has been abolished and, instead, parents will make ‘child arrangements.’ The change in terminology was an attempt to remove the concept of one parent being the ‘winner’ and one the ‘loser’, and to keep parties focused on making decisions based on what is best for the children.

In the event parents cannot agree on arrangements in relation to their children, they can apply to court for a child arrangement order to be made. Their right to apply is an automatic one, which means that although a parent may worry about the outcome of the application, they can relax somewhat in the knowledge that the court will make the best decision for the children.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for grandparents in such circumstances. When their children decide to divorce, this can mean an uncertain future in relation to contact with their grandchildren. This is due to the fact that if one of the children’s parents decides they do not want the grandparents to maintain contact with the children, the grandparents do not have an automatic right to apply to court for a child arrangement order to be made. Instead, they must apply to the court for permission to make an application for such an order.

It goes without saying that grandparents in the above position should always attempt to negotiate with whichever parent is making contact difficult for them. However, when such negotiations aren’t successful, many people argue that grandparents should have an automatic right to apply to the court for a child arrangement order.

The above argument is based on the fact that many grandparents have extremely close relationships with their grandchildren, and it can be traumatic for both the children and the grandparents when such relationships come to a very sudden halt upon divorce. Many people also find it unfair that relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren should stop because of ill-feelings between the parents. Neither the grandparents nor the children should be punished because of any animosity between parents.

Whilst there have been parliamentary debates about the difficulties grandparents face in maintaining contact with their grandchildren after divorce, no action has been taken yet. In the 2008 report, ‘Beyond the nuclear: Including the wider family’[1], it is pointed out that the government argues that if grandparents had an automatic right to apply for contact, this could impact a child’s rights being paramount. The government claims that it would be hard for a child’s welfare to be considered, or for their rights to be protected, if grandparents were not required to request permission to apply to court.

The main problem with the government’s argument is that it is not consistent. Any potential welfare issues that could emerge from providing grandparents with an automatic right to apply for contact surely already attach to the existing automatic right that allows parents, or those with parental responsibility, to apply for contact.

It is important to note that no one is campaigning for grandparents to have an automatic right to contact, as this could indeed be detrimental. Instead, they should simply be granted an automatic right to be acknowledged and considered in child arrangements.

Providing grandparents with an automatic right to apply for a child arrangement order, would signify the important role they play in many families. Eliminating the need to request permission to make an application to court would remove one huge hurdle that grandparents currently often need to go through during an already emotionally draining and troubling time. This would make the process easier and, hopefully, in cases where it is appropriate, allow contact to resume as soon as possible.

[1] http://www.fnf.org.uk/phocadownload/research-and-publications/research/Including_the_Wider_Family.pdf

 

Family Dispute Resolution Week: A Look at Mediation

Mediation will make the divorce process quicker, fairer and more empowering for both parties, says a family law expert at Manchester-based Kuits Solicitors today to mark the beginning of Family Dispute Resolution Week.

The comments come from Kuits’ Head of Family Law, Katie McCann, in response to further advancements made by the government to encourage divorcing couples to stay out of court in favour of mediation services.

“Last April saw the introduction of compulsory Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAM) for divorcing couples,” says McCann. “The purpose of these meetings is to provide the couple with information in relation to mediation and other forms of non-court-based dispute resolution. In a further attempt to encourage divorcing couples to use mediation as an alternative to the courts, a free mediation session will now be available, as long as one of them qualifies for legal aid.”

Previously, only the party eligible for legal aid was entitled to receive a complimentary session, whilst the other party had to pay for it. The Chief Executive of National Family Mediation, Jane Robey, says that the new scheme seeks to aid people’s understanding of what mediation can achieve, presumably by allowing them to experience the benefits of it first-hand.

MIAMs, along with the free initial mediation sessions, have the potential to enable ex-couples to reach agreements regarding finances and children outside of court. Commenting on the benefits of mediation the Justice Minister, Simon Hughes states: “Mediation works and we are committed to making sure that more people make use of it, rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court.”

As well as being less stressful than court, an additional benefit of mediation is a financial one. David Norgrove, chairman of the Family Justice Review, estimates that, if used, mediation has the potential to reduce legal aid costs by £100million – and it is not only the government who would reap the financial rewards. Ex-couples would also benefit significantly due to the fact that only one mediator is required, as opposed to two lawyers, and the hourly rate of a mediator is commonly less than that of a lawyer. However, families should be aware that, should mediation be unsuccessful and lawyers instructed at a later date, costs are likely to end up higher than they would have been if lawyers had been instructed at the outset.

“There certainly exists the potential for mediation to be a success due the fact that it allows for effective communication between the parties, who are able to speak directly, as opposed to having to pass their opinions and negotiations through their lawyers,” says McCann. “Not only can this save a lot of time, but it also ensures that words are not minced or misinterpreted. Without the court getting involved, an ex-couple can potentially reach a subjective, tailored arrangement that works best for them, without feeling that they are being ordered to do so. Significantly, it is often the non-forced nature of the arrangement reached that attracts separating couples to mediation.”

McCann also thinks that the fact that an ex-couple have managed to sit down and reach an agreement using mediation will mean that they have effectively communicated and compromised with each other. The skills acquired will hopefully allow them to renegotiate their arrangements should they require adaptation in the future, especially in relation to arrangements for the children.

“Due to the benefits attached to mediation, it is understandable why the government are encouraging more couples to attempt it,” says McCann. “Although couples cannot be forced to mediate, the existence of compulsory MIAMs suggests that there is some sort of pressure being placed on separating parties to consider it. However, the government should consider whether this pressure could potentially threaten the success of mediation, due to the fact that it removes the voluntary element – if an ex-couple attend mediation against their wishes, there may be less chance of them co-operating in order to reach a suitable agreement.”

McCann goes on to note that, even when attendance at mediation is voluntary, there are still risks attached to the process, particularly for cases involving intricate financial complexities: “Mediation does not attract the same disclosure mechanisms as the court does and therefore a party may find it easier to conceal financial information during the mediation process,” explains McCann. “This, together with the fact that the mediator remains neutral throughout the process, offering no legal advice, can result in an unfair agreement being reached. As long as both parties are aware of these potential limitations, for many, mediation will provide a welcome alternative to court proceedings.”

Ultimately, McCann applauds the government’s support of mediation: “Anything that empowers couples going through the upset of divorce is a great thing. A settlement reached on their own terms is always better than an artificial result imposed by a stranger: the judge. At Kuits, we are great supporters of empowering clients to reach fair and equitable resolutions in the quickest and most effective way.”

“Of course, while divorce cases can often be extremely acrimonious (and therefore the government cannot expect every separating couple to mediate), for the majority of separating couples, mediation provides a real opportunity for them to settle their disputes outside of the court room – and the service is set to get even stronger in the future.”

Indeed, from January 2015, the Family Mediation Council (FMC) will introduce a new accreditation scheme and new professional standards that all mediators will have to work towards. In addition to this, all mediators and those training to be mediators will have to register with the FMC. It is hoped that the stricter criteria will result in a greater confidence being placed in the mediation system, which in turn will result in a rise in its popularity. Although the government is unlikely to ever make mediation itself compulsory, if its effectiveness is well documented then couples will be eager to use it without pressure.

New Presumption of Parental Involvement: Is the law too concerned with appeasing the parent?

The welfare of the child has always been the fundamental consideration for courts dealing with child arrangements following a couple’s separation. The welfare checklist set out in S8 of the Children Act 1989 provides statutory guidance that requires certain factors to be considered. Amongst other things, the wishes and feelings of the child and the child’s needs are considered, so that the most appropriate arrangement is reached. Due to the subjective requirements of each child, extreme care must be taken to ensure that the specific needs of the child are met.

Consideration must be given to where the child should live and how often they should see or speak to each parent. Until recently, these matters were addressed through residence and contact orders respectively; however, these were replaced with the all-encompassing child arrangement orders in April 2014. The purpose of the amendment was to shift the focus away from the name of the order and towards the content. Too often, parents were being side-tracked and, instead of focusing on their child’s best interests, they were becoming fixated on becoming the parent with residence. By removing the concept of a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’, it was hoped that the focus would return to the child.

A further change to the law came into force on 22 October 2014, whereby S1 Children Act 1989 was amended to include the presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for both parents to be involved in the child’s life, unless evidence to the contrary is shown. Explaining the legislative changes, Mr Justice Hughes stated that, “No parent should be excluded from their child’s life for no good reason.”

But when has the law ever allowed this to happen? Surely it goes without saying that as long as it is safe to do so, then parental involvement will be encouraged? Judges have been dealing with parental disputes for many years and reported cases show that even when a parent’s conduct has been questionable some sort of contact has been maintained, as long as there is no risk to the child.

“As a result, one could be forgiven for thinking that the amendment brings nothing new to the table,” says Katie McCann, Head of Family Law for Kuits. “However, what it does do is shift both parent’s involvement from being a consideration to a presumption that is not to be strayed from without good reason.” As Mr Justice Hughes goes on to explain, “This is not about giving parents new ‘rights’ but making clear… that the family court will presume that each parent will play a role in the future life of their children.”

It is important to clarify that the changes to the Children Act do not create a presumption of equal parenting. Although this idea was considered initially when the above provisions were drafted, it did not come into fruition, and rightly so. A presumption of a 50:50 split in relation to parenting would not compliment the welfare principle and would be a potentially dangerous move in some cases. The risks attached to such a presumption are highlighted by Australian family law and the devastating case of 4-year-old Darcy Freeman, who died at the hands of her father in 2009. He had been given access to his children under the Australian shared parenting law, despite concerns from his ex-wife as to the safety of this. This tragic case emphasises that a presumption of shared parenting can easily jeopardise the safety of a child, without relevant checks and balances being in place.

“The UK law appears to tread with caution by expressing that the presumed involvement may be direct or indirect,” says McCann. “Although the importance of child-parent contact is acknowledged, the law is not prepared to endanger the child and therefore indirect contact may be appropriate where there is the potential of harm through direct contact. Although this approach appears to be balanced and sensible, the motives behind the recent amendments can be questioned. There is room to argue that the introduction of child arrangement orders and the insertion of the presumption of parental involvement are both for the benefit of the parent, as opposed to the child.

“As stated above, the involvement presumption has always existed and recording it in statute simply reassures parents that, unless there is a good reason to the contrary, they will remain involved in their child’s life. The introduction of child arrangement orders does nothing more than rebrand contact and residence orders by placing them in a slightly more modern and less stigmatising packaging. Massaging the ego of the parent that does not gain the label of a ‘residence order’ appears to be the main objective. By focusing on accommodating the parents’ feelings, it can be argued that the child’s welfare becomes less of a priority and this is unacceptable.”

The government do not accept that the focus has been shifted away from the child and explain that, on the contrary, the purpose of the changes is to ensure such focus remains intact. They claim that the aim of the legislative amendments is to promote a greater understanding of how the courts reach their decisions in cases relating to parental disputes. The hope is that, in doing so, parents will be persuaded to take a less rigid approach, secure in the knowledge that their involvement is desired.

“It is still early days and one cannot be sure of the effects, if any, of the legislative changes,” concludes McCann. “However, if the government’s outcomes are achieved, it is hoped that parents will stop trying to win the ‘custodial war.’ In turn, this will ensure that focus is placed on accommodating the child’s best interests and this, of course, is the ultimate goal.”

A Collaborative Divorce Interview: Clients and their Attorneys

In November 2013, Tyler Nelson and Pamela Nelson of Tampa, Florida, sat down for an interview with The World of Collaborative Practice Magazine.  The Nelsons had decided to Divorce using the Collaborative Process, as they did not want to fight in Court and they wanted to focus on the best interests of their daughter.  Tyler was joined by his collaborative attorney, Adam B. Cordover, and Pamela was joined by her attorney, Joryn Jenkins.  The interview was conducted by carl Michael rossi.

You can find the full interview at The World of Collaborative Magazine, and you can find excerpts below.

Tyler: A child needs her mother and father, even if they’re not together…Pamela was the one who found out about the collaborative process and told me about it. You know, you’re always going to have some kind of fear. Is this going to work out like it should? What is everyone going to have to do to make this work out? But as soon as I spoke with Adam about everything, all of my fears were gone. He explained everything and the way it was going to work, how it was going to work. I’m pretty sure Pam felt the same way, as soon as she spoke to her lawyer, she probably went through everything. That’s the one good thing about our lawyers, that they explained everything that was going to happen before it happened.

Pamela: Not everybody knows about collaborative divorce, yet. We really didn’t know until it was explained to us. It was a better process for us, rather than go to court and fight.

Tyler: Everything that needed to be addressed, has been addressed…Everything that we wanted to agree on, we did, and everything that we wanted put down on paper, it was.

Pamela: We also have different visitation rights with our daughter. More than, likely, other people have. We already had that situated, and we just needed to put it on paper. It was kind of different than normal people, where they only see their kids every weekend. We do our schedule every week, and we split the holidays. We had to work that out, and put that on paper.

Pamela: The judge actually said that she agreed that we were doing it the best way and that we were dealing with the divorce in a good way. Instead of people fighting and it being a bad thing, it was actually a good situation.

Adam: It was interesting that, at the end of that final hearing, Tyler and Pamela had their pictures taken with the judge. It was described afterwards as being not so much like a divorce setting, but strangely enough kind of like a wedding setting. They had their picture taken with the officiating person. Judge Lee was fantastic and was praising Tyler and Pamela for dissolving their marriage in a way where they keep their focus on their children and not on fighting. To divorce in a way that
was in the best interest of their daughter.

Joryn: I can’t remember doing another divorce where the judge congratulated the parties afterwards, and I’ve been doing this for thirty years.

Tyler: (regarding an interdisciplinary team) They told me about the financial manager [Monicas Ospina, CPA], and she was great. So was the psychologist [Jennifer Mockler, Ph.D.], she was great. They were all great.

Pamela: [The financial professional and mental health professional] were very helpful. They helped us with our tax returns, to see who should file for dependency exemptions to get the most out of it. And the mental health professional helped us stay on the same page with our daughter to make sure that we were doing the right thing. The psychologist made sure we were on the same page in how we were raising our daughter and determine what’s best for her.

Pamela:  (regarding the collaborative process) There’s no arguing, you know, there’s not really fighting or going back and forth or going to court or having the records be there out in public. There’s more privacy. I would definitely recommend it to anybody considering divorce.

Tyler: I have to agree with her…If you go and do the collaborative divorce, you have a lawyer there…They are not trying to make us fight. They are just there to write down what we want, and that’s the best thing about collaborative.

Tyler: We all sat down and talked. There was no arguing.

Pamela: The professionals worked around our schedules instead of us being court ordered to go to court on certain times and dates.

Pamela: (regarding going to the state-mandated parenting class) Everyone else was crying and hated their ex and wanted to kill them and I was like “well,
we’re friends, and everything is good.”

Tyler: “If anybody is thinking about doing a divorce, they should look into a collaborative divorce instead of jumping into it and going to court and fighting.”

Adam: “What I found excellent about this process and this couple, as opposed to the court-based divorces that I generally go through, is that when we were sitting around the table together with the mental health professional and financial professional, and we were talking, we weren’t just talking “civilly.”  We were talking in earnest.  We were actually just joking around at a few times and able to communicate in ways that you just couldn’t imagine doing in other divorce processes, even at a mediation table when there is the threat of litigation.

Joryn: “It is a much more protected environment, I think. It freed me up, and I’d like to think Adam, as well, to feel like we were teammates. We didn’t have to be adversaries, even though we were both representing different interests.”

Adam B. Cordover, Joryn Jenkins, Monica Ospina, and Jennifer Mockler are all members of Next Generation Divorce, formerly known as the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay.  Next Generation Divorce is made up of professionals dedicated to respectfully resolving family disputes.

Does Online Divorce Make Divorce Too Easy?

Self-divorce, divorce legal adviceIt seems like an entirely logical conclusion: if ending a marriage is now as simple as visiting a website and spending a few pounds, then divorce is clearly too easy. This criticism – which we face quite regularly – may appear entirely reasonable. It is, however, glib at best and, at its worst, nothing short of irresponsible.

Marital breakdown is unfortunate and, it is certainly fair to say, unpleasant for all concerned. Yes, marriage should be encouraged and those couples that experience difficulties that threaten their union should be provided with assistance. But if a couple cannot resolve their differences, then legislation exists that allows them to divorce for a very good reason: there is little point in keeping a couple that are unhappy together bound to one another. Yes, such a transition can be hard for any children that may be involved, but common sense dictates that this will not be more damaging than growing up in a household within which neither parental figure wishes to reside. That is not to suggest that more should not be done for children of divorce (helping them to adjust and regulating the damage that divorce can cause should be both parents’ and, indeed, society’s main concerns) but that, however perverse it may seem, that their parents’ divorce need not have a long-lasting and adverse effect if managed correctly.

Ultimately, divorce cannot be made to be too easy – it is, with very few exceptions, an extremely difficult and emotionally painful process. This is why so few people (if any) take the decision to end their marriages lightly and will do everything they possibly can to try and save their marriages before deciding to even separate. Following this, many even choose not to divorce for several years. They do so for a variety of reasons from remaining in the matrimonial property for the sake of their children to the need to finalise agreements before legally ending the marriage through to indecisiveness. Having worked at an online divorce company for almost five years know (and having assisted many people during this time) I cannot recall a single client having purchased our services within the first few months of them having separated.

I certainly do not feel that we make divorce too easy and that’s because, in my opinion, you cannot make a divorce too easy. You can provide a customer with a positive service that makes the process and experience more tolerable, but you cannot make it enjoyable.

Social Security Disability Benefits in the New Year

Social Security Disability Benefits Elizabeth struggles from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a mid- stage of a rare, but deadly form of lung cancer, mesothelioma.  Twenty years ago, Elizabeth was working as a volunteer firefighter when she was called to the scene of a fire at a historical building.  By the time Elizabeth arrived, the building was completely engulfed in flames and her husband, who was also a firefighter, was stuck in the building and was not rescued until it was too late.  Elizabeth was traumatized from the event, but had to keep on moving forward for her family.  Last year, she started to feel very ill and had her most severe panic attack to date when her son went away to college.  After visiting a doctor, Elizabeth was told she had been and was suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, attributed to witnessing her husband’s death.  Her early diagnosis of mesothelioma was a surprise for a younger woman of 50, but the doctors had speculated that she had breathed in asbestos particles from her husband’s clothing and body (after he fought fires) and from all of her own exposure while firefighting.  Her overall diagnosis is not good, but Elizabeth has a life expectancy of at least 2 to 3 years, maybe more if she’s able to manage her health in other ways.

Elizabeth never remarried and has worked hard, as a book keeper, to provide for her 3 children.  At one point, she had attempted to return to school and get her Master’s degree in Financing, but was too overwhelmed by the physical, emotional, and financial stress.  With one teenage child still living at home, Elizabeth cannot afford not to work, but is physically and mentally unable to.  Six months ago, she filed for social security disability benefits (SSD) and was initially denied because her condition was not severe enough, after being given a more thorough and accurate diagnosis, she was approved to receive benefits, as she is expected to be “disabled” for at least one year or until death.

One Mother’s Struggle, Millions Needing Assistance

Elizabeth is just one of millions of people who are struggling with physical and mental health issues on a daily basis, so debilitating that they are unable to keep or find a job.  Unfortunately, not every one of those people “qualifies” for assistance.  Filing for SSD is a lengthy, frustrating, and complicated process with strict guidelines that are based upon how much work you have performed throughout your life (and paid into Social Security) and if your disability falls within the List of Impairments.  Monthly SSD benefits can range from $300 to $2,200 with the average 2013 payment being about $1,132.  For many recipients, the benefits they receive are barely enough to get by and for others, not even enough to meet a “living wage”.

The 2013 National Poverty Guidelines for a Household of 1 is $11,490.  If a single parent with a child or a couple received the “average” monthly SSD payment they would fall below the poverty line for a 2 person household ($15,510).  Depending on where you live, how you live, and what you need, will determine if you are receiving a livable wage.

Promising News for the New Year

Starting in the 2014, some recipients will see a 1.5% increase in SSD benefits.  For some struggling recipients, this will be the boost they need offering a little financial cushioning while others will continue to struggle with their disability and trying to make ends meet.  Individuals, who have once worked hard to try to make a living wage, but have all of a sudden been thrown a “curveball” (like a disability), deserve and are entitled to financial assistance.  If you are disabled and are no longer able to work, will you file for benefits you deserve or suffer your financial, physical, and mental struggle in silence?