Tampa Bay’s “Divorce from Hell” is apparently ongoing, ten years after a petition for dissolution of marriage was initially filed and six years after a final judgment of dissolution of marriage was granted.

For those who are not from the area, below is a rundown (as documented in a 2013 story in the Tampa Bay Times).  

A Dissolution of Marriage

Soon-to-be Husband and Wife meet at an insurance company in 1988 where they both worked.  Husband and Wife marry and have two children. Husband builds a business and works as a retirement planner, while Wife works as a stay-at-home mom to raise the kids.  

After 18 years, Wife files for divorce.  And the bitter court fights ensues. Allegations of excessive drinking, out-of-control spending, and inadequate parenting become public record.  They become mired in an adversarial court system that pits parent against parent and spouse versus spouse. Husband and Wife get to a point where they view each other not as co-parents, but as bitter enemies.  

“It was as if they couldn’t remember how not to fight, how not to hate each other,” reported the Tampa Bay Times.

The Divorce From Hell Ensues

The couple engage in wide-reaching discovery tactics.  Husband produces 22 pounds of paperwork in response to Wife’s seventh request for production of documents.  Much of that information would become public record.

Husband and Wife’s trips to the courthouse are frequent.  Observed the Times reporter:

I NOTICED RIGHT AWAY that the case never seemed to go anywhere:  plenty of motions but little movement.

Motion to enforce court orders on sale of property.  Motion to modify temporary relief. Amended motion for contempt to enforce order.  Motion for protective order and extension of time. Emergency motion to modify temporary primary residence.

All of these meant [Husband] and [Wife] and their lawyers and their experts would come together in front of the judge, sometimes at a combined cost of $1,250 an hour.

The litigation takes its toll on the family.  The stress causes Wife to lose her appetite and engage in extreme weight loss.  As the divorce becomes all consuming, Husband’s business suffers and he comes to the brink of bankruptcy.

And, in the meantime, as divorce courts are a public forum, a reporter is able to capture the blow-by-blow.

IN AUGUST 2010, [Husband] wheeled a chest full of documents up to the fourth floor of the Pinellas County Courthouse.  It was his 36th divorce hearing.  His girlfriend…teetered in white platform sandals beside him.  Then 44, she was blonder and curvier than [Wife].

The couple finally had their trial in October 2012, nearly five years after they initially filed for divorce.  In the end, Husband and Wife went though four judges, six lawyers, and $400,000.00 to get divorced.

Divorce is Not the End

And, yet, that was not the end.

In 2018, Wife files a motion for contempt against Husband claiming failure to pay ordered support.  Wife also files a supplemental petition to modify the final judgment, claiming that there has been a substantial change in circumstances (i.e., Husband makes more money) which would allow the Court to increase the support Husband pays.  

Husband fleas the state, and the Court sends Sheriff’s Officers out to try to find him.  And the court battles continue.

A Better Way:  Collaborative Divorce

Fortunately, you can be comforted by the fact that there are alternatives to a divorce battle.  You do not need to experience the Divorce from Hell for yourself. One alternative, Collaborative Divorce, takes your family out of the adversarial court system and into a supportive, private setting.

The concept of Collaborative Divorce is very simple.  You and your spouse are each represented by a separate attorney.  The attorneys are there solely for the purpose of helping you and your spouse reach an agreement.  In fact, you sign a participation agreement that prevents the collaborative attorneys from engaging in any contested proceedings.

This means that you and your attorneys do not spend any time, energy, or money engaging in unnecessary motion practice, depositions, or dirty trial tactics.  Instead, you work as a team to help figure out what is the best resolution for your family.

Beyond a Legal Process

Collaborative professionals recognize that divorce is not just a legal process.  It is also a financial process, and it is especially an emotional process.

This is why your family will be aided by one or more professionals who have a specialty in family dynamics, childhood development, and communication skills.  This professional is sometimes called a facilitator, a coach, or a family specialist (depending on your geography). The facilitator will work with you to ensure that communications remain future-focused rather than mired in the arguments of the past.  If you have children, he or she will guide you on how to shelter them from the disputes between the parents and develop a parenting plan tailored to their needs.

You may also have a financial professional, who will help do away with the need and embarrassment of constant formal requests for information and documents that can litter a couple’s divorce court file.   He or she can help you build a plan for beyond divorce, so that you can be confident that you will have the resources to live on.  

Taking the Court out of Divorce

The key to Collaborative Divorce is a binding commitment that the attorneys and professional team cannot be used to fight in court.  If, for some reason, the spouses are unable to reach an agreement, or if a spouse acts inconsistently with the principles of Collaborative Divorce, then the Attorneys and professional team must withdraw.  The spouses can then go ahead and retain litigation.

Though this may seem scary, termination only happens a relatively small percentage of the time.  A study conducted by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals found that 86% of Collaborative Practice cases resulted in a full agreement between the clients, while an additional 2% reconciled.  Similarly, based on a study conducted by the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals, as of January 31, 2018, 93% of all Collaborative Matters ended in a full agreement between the clients.

So, in all likelihood, when you begin the Collaborative Process, you and your family will reach an agreement and be able to move on to your better future.

Take a lesson from the Divorce from Hell.  Avoid the court system and learn more about the Collaborative Divorce Process.

Adam B. Cordover is a Collaborative Attorney and Florida Certified Family Law Mediator based out of Tampa, Florida.  He is co-editor and co-author of Building A Successful Collaborative Family Law Practice (ABA 2018, with Forrest S. Mosten).  Adam is a member of the Boards of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals, as well as a founding member of the Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers.  You can learn more at https://www.FamilyDiplomacy.com