You Should Know About Eldercaring Coordination!

Written by Linda Fieldstone, Judge Michelle Morley and Sue Bronson

ACR/FLAFCC Elder Justice Initiative Co-Chairs

Do you know any families embroiled in conflict about the care and safety of an aging loved one? Do you have clients where family conflict is jeopardizing the care or safety the older adult that they say they are protecting?  Have you heard about eldercaring coordination?

Sol lies still in his bed, wanting desperately to fall asleep.  It is after midnight and he is so tired.  A tear trickles from the corner of his eye into his ear.  His brain is still active, doing its best to process what happened at dinner tonight.  Another explosion between his children. Sol tried to interrupt; they will not listen, continuing to yell about him as if he wasn’t even there. Sol knows that they love him and don’t understand how they are breaking his heart – when was the last time he saw all his grandchildren, their visits halted by all the in-fighting. Some paper arrives that says that Sol must go to court, that some people were appointed by the Court to examine Sol’s capacity and report back to the court on what they find.  Sol is so confused and now he is scared.  What does all this mean?  Why does an 84-year-old man have to go to court when he has never done anything wrong? 

Eldercaring coordination is a solution.  

We traditionally think of young parents raising children when someone talks about Family Court, but families include every one of every age from “cradle to grave.”  FLAFCC strives to make family experiences in court positive, to put families in better shape after litigation than they were in when it started. That’s why FLAFCC supported, encouraged, sponsored, and helped launch the development of Eldercaring Coordination, an alternative dispute resolution process court ordered for aging families experiencing conflict to address nonlegal issues, particularly regarding the care and safety of an aging loved one. In 2021 Florida enacted Florida Statute s. 44.407, the first state statute in the nation on eldercaring coordination. The Florida Dispute Resolution Center, substantiating Florida as a leader in dispute resolution processes, has posted an Eldercaring Coordination Almanac which will be updated with more information as available.

Eldercaring coordination is based on the same premise as parenting coordination: that families in higher conflict need a dispute resolution process catered to their specific needs and characteristics. These are the minority of families that take a majority of the court time and resources, often hammering each other with nonlegal issues to battle out in court. Eldercaring coordination addresses these nonlegal concerns in a timely fashion and private forum, helping family members:

·   reduce conflict so they can work together more productively and focus on the aging person’s care;

·   Support the aging person’s self-determination to the extent possible;

·   Promote safety by monitoring at-risk situations; and

·   Develop a support system for the aging person and family.

Eldercaring coordination is a process, not an event like mediation, and requires a distinct skill set because of the degree of family conflict involved. Mediation is for parties that are functional and recognize that their issues are resolvable.  Eldercaring coordination is for parties whose emotional conflict is crippling their ability to focus on the real issues.  When they attempt to bring up historic disputes, the family is directed to re-focus on and use their personal strengths to meet the needs of their aging loved one. Appointing the eldercaring coordinator (EC) for a two-year term is recommended in order to respond to the transitions of the aging person and avoid adversarial actions that ramp up family discord.  As you can imagine, it takes the EC significant time to peel back the layers of conflict within the family and develop a trusting relationship with the family members. Multiple sessions of eldercaring coordination are needed to help the family members learn how to communicate and negotiate with one another without going off track into historic family turmoil.  You can identify a family who would benefit from eldercaring coordination when:

  • The elder is isolated, with a family member(s) or guardian restricting access to and information about elder.
  • The family is arguing about elder’s care, safety, capacity, guardianship, or use of elder’s assets.
  • There are report(s) to Adult Protective Services involving family conflict or miscare.
  • Mediation is ineffective as family members use it as another opportunity to attack each other.

The Court can ONLY appoint Eldercaring Coordinators (ECs) meeting the statutory qualifications. Florida Judicial Circuits qualify eldercaring coordinators (ECs) and can place them on a roster similar to parenting coordination.  Most ECs will work remotely, as it is common for family members to reside outside the elder’s jurisdiction. In an independent preliminary study by Pamela Teaster and Meagan Dolbin MacNab, both prestigious researchers from Virginia Tech, 100% of judges responding to a survey of cases initially referred to eldercaring coordination as being “very effective.” In addition, ECs often identified numerous safety issues per family, protecting the older adult from various risks and continued exploitation and abuse. The order of referral to eldercaring coordination enables the referring judge to specify non-legal issues for the EC to address and any protective measures the judge wants implemented in a case that involves elder abuse or domestic violence. The parties can save time and money as the EC’s fees are shared according to the allocation on the court order. Most ECs work on a sliding scale fee when affordability is an issue, which is rare since the court order specifies the allocation of fees shared by family members. In addition, Sunshine Health has formally recognized high conflict in families as a health issue for older adults and will provide 10 hours of eldercaring coordination statewide to its Medicaid members, reducing the cost to just $25 per hour split according to the court’s allocation.

Why is eldercaring coordination relevant to FLAFCC and its members? Just like in Sol’s family, children are the by-product of the alliances formed, sometimes even restricted from seeing their grand or great grandparent. Children hear and then model the explosive rhetoric in families engaged in conflict. Multigenerational conflict poses negative outcomes for future generations, reducing effective coping skills and decreasing their social capital and support systems. Eldercaring coordination can protect those most vulnerable, young and old alike, from being in the middle of the conflict. When family members learn to work together for the sake of their loved ones, future generations can embrace a legacy of peace.The values promoted in eldercaring coordination uphold the values of FLAFCC – your values.  Please check out the website, contact us with questions you may have, and talk amongst yourselves about cases that may benefit from a process that: focuses on individual and family strengths rather than the win-lose mentality of an adversarial process; effectuates more timely responses and avoiding crowded dockets; saves time and money. Attorneys have acknowledged that legal issues flow more productively through the court when the emotionality of the family members is deflated. Guardians have reported better informed decision-making occurs with the input of family members focused on the elder, rather than past unresolved issues. Perhaps you are interested in becoming an eldercaring coordinator.  You would see that as family members begin to apply skills they have learned in the process, they are able to build a more constructive support system and utilize mediation other services related to older adults. Change is hard and change is slow; meanwhile older adults in the middle of conflict are suffering, and so are the younger generations witnessing dysfunctional conflict.  The Eldercaring Coordination Initiative extends appreciation to FLAFCC for its ongoing support. Help us spread the word that eldercaring coordination is here, statutorily recognized in Florida and ready to help.


Factors in Relocation Cases

Written by Dr. Peggie Ward

As a family law professional it is essential to consider a number of factors in relocation cases.  These factors are: the Best Interests of the Child, the Existing Time-Sharing Plan and the impact of the proposed relocation on the Time Sharing agreement, the reason for relocation as well as the distance of the relocation.  The best interests standard is the court’s primary consideration.  The  impact on the child’s education, social life, and relationship with the non-relocating parent are several of these factors. The child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent is crucial to address including how that relationship will be maintained despite the distance, such as through extended visitation during school breaks, holidays, or summers, and the use of technology for regular communication. The co-parenting relationship is crucial and the court will want assess the parent’s ability to maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship despite the proposed relocation.  If the relocation is granted, the existing parent plan may need to be modified.  It is helpful if attorney for the relocating parent to take into account: how to prepare for the move, including making necessary arrangements for school enrollment, healthcare, and support systems in the new location. It is also important to address the challenges if relocation is granted including: changes in timesharing, adjustment issues for the child and the relocating parent, and the need for professional intervention in case of emotional or psychological difficulties.

Additionally there are specific legal requirements in Florida for parental relocation cases, which include providing formal notice to the other parent and obtaining court approval for the relocation.  The notice must comply with statutory requirements and include specific information, such as the new address, phone number, and proposed relocation date. Failure to provide proper notice may have legal consequences. It is important to ensure that all legal requirements are met and followed meticulously to avoid any negative repercussions in court. In relocation cases, the parent seeking to relocate has the burden of proving that the proposed relocation is in the best interests of the child. This means that the parent must present evidence and persuade the court that the relocation is in the child’s best interests based on the relevant factors under Florida law.

It is also important to consider the age of the child. In Florida, if the child is 16 years old or older, their preference regarding the proposed relocation may be given more weight by the court. The court may take into consideration the child’s wishes and preferences, although it is not the sole determining factor. The court will still consider the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration however, the child’s age and maturity level may affect how much weight the court gives to their preferences. If the child is 16 or older and expresses a strong preference to either support or oppose the proposed relocation, the court may take their preference into account when evaluating the overall best interests of the child.

There is a role for other professionals in relocation cases. Collaboration with other professionals, such as counselors, psychologists, and financial experts, may help provide comprehensive support to the parents and address various aspects of the relocation case effectively. Working as a team can provide valuable insights and support for the parents and help them make informed decisions.

Relocation cases can be emotionally charged, and parents may have differing opinions and strong emotions about the proposed relocation. Professionals working with these families can help with using of conflict resolution and mediation skills. Therapists can provide emotional support to family members by creating a safe and non-judgmental space for them to express their feelings, fears, and concerns related to the relocation. Therapists can help family members process their emotions, manage stress, and develop coping strategies to navigate the changes associated with the proposed relocation. Therapists can also provide co-parenting counseling to help parents improve their communication and problem solving skills.  Therapists can provide therapy specifically for children to help them cope with the changes associated with the proposed relocation.


Congrats Florida Bar “Visionary Award” Recipient

“I am honored and humbled to receive this year’s Visionary Award from the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar during the Marital and Family Law Review Course in Orlando. A heartfelt thank you to Magistrate Philip Wartenberg, current Chair of the Family Law Section for this recognition. The surprise was genuine and I was extremely grateful that much effort (behind the scenes) took place to arrange for my husband, daughter and son to be present as I received this Award. My family has always been so supportive of my volunteer work and it was wonderful for them to share this special moment together with me.”

Thank you!

-Maria Gonzalez, Esq.


Resist Refuse Dynamics in Parent Child Contact Problem Cases

(View PowerPoint video at bottom of the page)

“Resist and Refuse Dynamics” (RRD) is a term used to describe a pattern of behavior that can occur in high-conflict family situations where a child or children actively resist or refuse contact with the other parent, despite court orders or agreements. These family dynamics arise from multiple factors including factors within each parent, factors in the coparenting relationship, particular vulnerability of the children. This pattern can be particularly frustrating and distressing for the parent who is being resisted.  However the more favored parent as well as the child or children involved have their own set of stressors.

Resistance or refusal to see a parent may be appropriate when there has been abuse or IPV.  While some children continue to want to spend time with an abusive parent, the safety of the child is paramount to consider. Children who reject a parent due to witnessing domestic violence or having been abused or witness to either, express justified concerns.  It is essential for family law professionals involved in these cases to address safety issues.  In cases with documented safety concerns it may not be appropriate for a children to spend unsupervised time with the parent in question.  It is essential to balance the child’s safety with their need for a relationship with both parents. Cases with safety concerns and where the child is resisting contact fall into a different category than RRD and will not be discussed in this paper.

Why is it important to understand cases of Resist and Refuse Dynamics in a family? Family law professionals, whether judges, attorneys, mediators, parenting coordinators or mental health professionals are likely to encounter these complex and frustrating cases. Family law professionals need a common vocabulary as well as a common approach to these cases in order to be of service to these families. It is essential for any family law professional in RRD cases to have knowledge of family systems theory and practice as well as to understand how holding multiple hypotheses when sitting with members of the family can help keep natural biases and alliances in check. It is also essential to understand the levels of severity in these cases in order to tailor interventions to meet family goals.  Children having to make a choice between two “good-enough” parents (with whom they have had a positive relationship) may suffer long term consequences of the loss of one parent. 

What are some of the causal factors in RRD?  We have ruled out safety concerns and are dealing with two good enough parents who have expressed that the children need a “safe and healthy” relationship with both parents. We also know over time a child can and will feel closer to one parent than the other.  This is normal.  It is only when a child feels or is forced to choose one parent over the other that the problems ensue.

A history of conflict between parents where one parent may talk negatively about the other parent in front of the child or overtly interfere with the parent’s time with the child is certainly one causal factor.  Children may blame one parent for the conflict; previous positive memories and relationships can become viewed as all bad. Parenting difficulties such as harsh discipline, substance misuse, or mental health problems can lead a child to choose one parent over the other. Children who are prone to anxiety or depression may be more likely to be caught up in a loyalty bind.  It is essential to consider the co-parenting relationship, any parenting concerns, the vulnerability of the child, and any critical incidents that have become part of a child’s and parent’s negative narrative about the other parent. [See Power Point for more in depth analysis of RRD].

Other causal factors can be found in external systems.  Extended family in these cases can become involved and polarizing. Litigation, splintered professionals and social media too can play a role.  As professionals working with these families we need to understand the multiple factors in order to find the best solutions.

In working with these families, it is essential to hear and respect child preferences and desires [a voice but not necessarily the final choice]  while ensuring that a child is not being unduly influenced by the more favored parent.  Children caught in loyalty binds or have chosen one parent over the other can feel an enhanced sense of confusion, guilt, anxiety or depression.  Children’s choice of one parent over another may lead to a sense of well-being (“I am not caught any longer”) but may also lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness (“I miss my mom/dad but can’t say or feel that).

What are some paths to resolution in these matters?  For the court, accountability is key.  After careful and thorough assessment of any safety issues, therapeutic intervention with court accountability is essential.  These families need a clear order from the court as to how to proceed with a family therapy intervention.  For attorneys, holding multiple hypotheses about a client while supporting their own unique struggles is very helpful.  While it is tempting to side with the clients point of view only, the Bounds of Advocacy are in effect to factor in the best interests of the children.  For mental health professionals a family therapy intervention involving the whole family, assessing for parenting, co-parenting, child vulnerabilities, and the negative narratives that have taken hold (and may not be accurate) is essential. 

So what has to occur if family therapy is to have the potential for success?  Intimate Partner Violence must have been screened out. A coercive controlling parenting style must be addressed. All parenting styles, boundaries, discipline, affect, steadiness, and mental health must be taken into account.  Clear parenting difficulties may warrant referral to a parenting therapist or parenting coach.  A parenting therapist can help each parent navigate their own emotional response leading to better and more effective communication. The history of co-parenting cooperation or conflict must be understood.  If a family therapist can help the parents address issues and work toward a mutual resolution, family therapy is likely to be more successful.  Child vulnerabilities help guide the intensity of the intervention and may lead to a referral to a child therapist to be part of the team. A child therapist must understand they are part of a team, supporting the family therapy while helping the child through their anger, distrust, or anxiety.

and supportive

What has to occur in family therapy?  After careful assessment of the factors described and a commitment from the family to work on agreed upon goals, the detailed work begins.  A family therapist must help increase the motivation for change; this can occur when the alternatives to working in family therapy are explored and found lacking. A therapist will have laid out the expectations for progress.  If expectations are met the RRD should begin to resolve, both parents should be able to support the agreed on goals, and the child should have engaged with the rejected parent in steps (supported by the favored parent) toward meaningful dialogue. Gradually the relationship should improve.  While there is no clear timeline, if there is no movement in the family after several months of regular meetings, a reassessment as to goals and expectations is necessary.  Sometimes this leads to the necessity of more intensive work; sometimes this leads to a pause in treatment while other avenues are tried; sometimes this leads to a period of no direct contact.  If the goal has been to grow a safe and meaningful relationship and this has not occurred it is essential to examine the possible reasons for lack of success. Once these are examined a new direction may be necessary.

There are pros and cons to a new direction.  If that direction is a more intensive form of therapy it will be because the rejected parent has had a previously positive relationship with the children and has done all the necessary work in therapy, the children have continued to resist or refuse contact, and the favored parent is unable to unwilling to support the goals of a safe and healthy relationship.  While some of these intensive programs purport to have a very high success rate, it is crucial to examine the programs in depth as well as what is meant by “success”.  Sometimes the child is able to reconnect with the previously rejected parent very well, only to lose the relationship with the favored parent.  Goals and expectations for these intensive programs must be determined and understood in advance.

If the new direction is to re-create and enforce a structured parenting plan with time with each parent, it is essential to determine how this will be enforced.  If the new direction is to pause or say goodbye to one’s child for now, there is also work to be done.

In conclusion, Resist and Refuse Dynamics are multi-factored and complex.  Family law professionals must understand the family dynamic, make certain safety is a priority, and not become part of a polarizing dynamic.  Once the factors underlying the RRD are clear, the roles for the judge, the attorney, the mediator, the parenting coordinator, and the family therapist become more defined.  With clear expectations and goals family therapy can help resolve the strained relationship between parent and child.  Children are often caught in the middle in these RRD.  They can suffer both short term and longer term consequences.  It is our job as family law professionals, to approach these cases with care and compassion, always focused on the Best Interests of the Child within their family. 


Shifting the Lens in Family Court: A Trauma-Informed View

Written by Dr. Peggie Ward

When it comes to family law, the issue of trauma can often be overlooked. Trauma is a broad term that encompasses anything from physical harm, long-term illness or even mental and emotional distress. In recent years, family law has begun to incorporate the understanding that trauma can have a significant impact on relationships and legal proceedings within families.

Family law through a trauma lens considers how childhood events such as being exposed to violence, abuse, or neglect can shape an individual’s identity and approach to problem solving as an adult. It also takes into account any potentially traumatic events that may happen during divorce proceedings or disputes over custody arrangements. By considering the possible presence of trauma when examining family law cases, lawyers are better able to provide effective advice for those involved in difficult family situations. A trauma-informed approach also seeks to create a more equitable and just system by reducing the potential for further harm and increasing access to resources and support.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is a term that is used in many different contexts, but its definition remains the same. Trauma is an emotionally and physically distressing event or experience, especially one of overwhelming intensity. Trauma is unexpected, the person is unprepared, and there is nothing the person can do to stop the even from happening. Trauma can be anything from a car accident to an assault; it can also be caused by chronic exposure to stress and adversity such as poverty or neglect. Understanding trauma and how it affects individuals is essential for family law practitioners who wish to provide the best possible legal representation for their clients.

The effects of trauma are pervasive, impacting all aspects of a person’s life including mental health, relationships, finances, physical health, legal issues and more. By understanding the way that trauma shapes people’s behavior on both conscious and unconscious levels family law professionals can better serve their client’s needs both in court proceedings as well as out-of-court negotiations.

How to Apply a Trauma Lens to Family Law

The legal field has long been criticized for its lack of understanding and consideration for the emotional turmoil faced by those involved in family law cases. To better support individuals experiencing divorce, custody battles, or other family-related issues, recognizing the lens of trauma is essential. A trauma informed way of thinking recognizes parties in these cases need to feel safe; to feel valuable; to feel empowered; to be heard. A trauma informed model shifts from blame (what is wrong with you?) to understanding (what has happened to you?). 

By incorporating practices informed by a trauma lens into family law practice, attorneys can provide more effective representation while showing compassion towards their clients who are navigating some of life’s toughest moments. Judges who use a trauma informed lens in court learn how obtain the most salient information while taking care not to trigger a potential traumatic response.  When parents participate in the decision making process they are more likely to follow through with agreements. Alternative Dispute Resolution, mediation, and case management conferences all involve and empower parents to help create their own paths through their legal issues.

Impact of Trauma on Our Legal System

The legal system is often viewed as a place where justice is served, however, this may not be the case for those who have experienced trauma. In recent years, experts have taken a closer look at how trauma can impact our legal system, particularly in the area of family law. Studies have shown that individuals who have experienced trauma are more likely to become involved in disputes with family members or other parties over child custody and parenting arrangements. These types of situations can lead to long-term consequences for both parties if they are not properly addressed in court.

When it comes to family law matters, understanding how trauma affects people’s lives is essential for achieving fair outcomes. Trauma can alter an individual’s perception of reality and make them unable to process complex information or think clearly during negotiations or proceedings.

Benefits of Approaching Family Law from a Trauma Perspective

Approaching family law from a trauma perspective can offer numerous benefits to those navigating through the legal system. By understanding how past trauma affects individuals in present-day conflicts, family lawyers can better serve their clients and provide more tailored advice to help them reach desirable outcomes.

Trauma-informed practices are gaining recognition as an important factor in successful family law cases. Studies have shown that by taking into account a client’s background, attorneys can assist them in making decisions that are best suited for their needs, ultimately leading to more favorable results. They also gain insight into potential triggers and behaviors that can be used to de-escalate tense situations or disagreements between parties involved in the case.

Ultimately, approaching family law from a trauma lens allows family law professionals to approach each case with greater empathy and understanding of the events leading up to it which helps develop strategies for resolving conflict effectively.

Conclusion: Moving Forward with Compassion

Trauma informed principles acknowledge that trauma is pervasive. Trauma informed environments allow a person’s strengths to emerge.  In trauma informed environments, safety, trust, choice and control, compassion, and collaboration are paramount. The shift toward a trauma informed approach in family court is vital. 

The topic of family law can be difficult for many, especially those who have experienced trauma. To address these issues, understanding the effects of traumatic experiences must be addressed in family law matters. By recognizing the effects that traumatic events can have on individuals and their families, it is possible to move forward in family law cases with empathy and understanding while also focusing on legal procedures. By focusing on safety, empowerment, and equity, we can help to reduce the potential for further harm and create a process that is respectful, dignified, and ultimately healing for everyone involved.

View the full PowerPoint presentation below: