My Open Letter To Governor Scott
Dear Governor Scott,
I am writing to thank you for signing the Collaborative Law Act into law and for vetoing the current version of the Alimony Reform Bill, specifically the provision on the 50/50 time sharing presumption. I believe both of these measures go a long way towards protecting Florida’s children and serving their families.
Representative Ritch Workman, one of the sponsors of the Alimony Reform Bill, is quoted as saying,
“The governor’s message is clear; we must tackle each issue in family law separately rather than lumping them all together.” He goes on to say, “I am committed to reforming these issues. Next session I intend to facilitate individual bills regarding alimony payments, child custody and other family law issues. The system has long been in need of significant overall [change] and Florida families deserve consistency and fairness in their divorce proceedings.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Representative Workman: the current system in place is in dire need of reform. It does not serve Florida families well; rather, it destroys families. However, while the system is in need of reform, piecemeal legislation that pits parents against each other and a system that discourages parents, instead of encouraging them to work together to make decisions about their children is not the answer. In fact, the last thing the families of Florida need is for their family conflict to be viewed as a bunch of separate issues. It is one issue, to be lumped together: divorce is a relationship issue with legal and financial components. The family must be viewed as a whole in order to properly address the issue of divorce and the related relationship breakdown. Acknowledging and addressing the core issue (i.e., the emotional pain and trauma) helps people move beyond the conflict and make better decisions. A process that focuses on the needs and interests of the family serves families and, in turn, protects children from the harm that occurs through a protracted litigation process.
Despite the best efforts of the Family Court judges and family lawyers and despite cases such as Diaz v. Diaz, 826 So.2d 229 (Fl. 2002), (recognizing the laudable goal of reducing the amount and intensity of adversarial litigation that can result in the dissipation of the parties' assets and that can have a destructive effect on the parties' emotional well-being), children suffer the consequences when their parents fight it out in court. I have seen so many children spend their childhoods embroiled in their parents’ litigation. Study after study show that children whose parents engage in litigated conflict do poorly in school, have low self-esteem, have difficulty developing strong relationships later in life, suffer depression, etc.
Families do not belong in court. The courtroom is no place for families to work through the emotions attendant to a relationship breakdown. In fact, emotions do not come into the analysis that happens in a courtroom. The elephant in the room is ignored and grows bigger because of it.
It is ironic that “no-fault” divorce was seen as an advancement when so many people want to go into court and prove to someone (the judge) that it is their spouse’s fault that the marriage broke down. They want vindication, revenge, salve, etc., relief from their pain---which does not come from a litigated process. In fact, the litigated process prolongs the pain and causes the emotions to get out of hand.
Judges (strangers) are not the best positioned to make decisions about people’s children and money. Parents are. Given the right support and tools to get through the emotionally ravaging changes divorce brings, parents are generally the best people to protect their children and to ensure that their best interests are at the forefront. Thinking about it in another way, it is really stupid that people have to sue their spouses in order to restructure their families.
We live in a society in which more than 50% of first marriages end in divorce; the percentages are higher for second and third marriages. I suggest that part of the reason the divorce rates increase is because people did not address their emotional pain the first time around.
In order to serve Florida families during the statistically likely event of divorce, our system must be changed drastically. Some changes I suggest are:
- Mandatory waiting periods between separation and the date of filing
- Mandatory counseling to address the emotional aspects of divorce/failed relationships pre-filing
- Mandatory in-person parenting courses of more than four hours duration pre-filing
- Untying time sharing from child support
- Making out of court options, such as Collaborative Divorce and mediation, a requirement before filing in court is permitted
- Making litigation the absolute last resort for divorcing couples/non-married parents whose relationships have broken down
These are just a few possibilities towards building a family system that supports Florida’s families and protects Florida’s children. I know there are others. There are organizations such as FLAFCC (Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts) that have as members people from multiple disciplines whose sole task is to bring change to a system that has failed Florida’s families. This is a very important issue. The health and well-being of Florida’s families and children are at stake.