Collaborative Divorce Collaborative Practice

Re-Imagine Family Law: Collaboratively Trained Attorneys, Financial, and Mental Health Professionals as Problem Solvers and Peacemakers

By Connie J. Byrd, Esq.
Board Member, FLAFCC

Family disputes represent the largest number of new cases filed in circuit courts throughout Florida. In the 2015/2016 year, the Florida Office of State Courts Administrator reported more than 288,000 new family law cases opened. Of that number, 82,000 were actions dissolution of marriage, outpaced only by orders for protection against violence. (Jameson et al., 2015-2016, p. 5-2, 5-3). Though time and costs vary widely depending at least in part on the complexity of the matter, selection of process, and attorney experience, at least one source estimates the average divorce in Florida takes fifteen months and costs $13,300 (Martindale-Nolo Research). Despite the time and cost invested, emotional and financial issues are often left unresolved, as is evidenced by the 223,000 domestic relations cases that were re-opened in 2015/2016, primarily for modification and enforcement (Jameson et al., 2015-2016, p. 5-22).

What role do the professionals play in this? Mental and behavioral health professionals are asked to take positions as experts, often contributing to the already heightened sense of hurt, frustration, and failed communications between family members. Financial professionals are asked to utilize their expertise to justify polarized positions. And what about the lawyers? Many go to court the same way one would go to war – leading a battalion of well-prepared witnesses and highly trained experts into battle armed with evidence designed to obliterate the enemy. Unfortunately, the “enemy” is the family – most often permanently linked to each other by a shared past, children, extended family, and intertwined finances. As a result, no one wins.

Now imagine something different. Let’s take all that professional talent and re-direct the emotional energy and financial resources available to the family to build a highly effective interdisciplinary team focused on identifying common goals and creating options for re-structuring the family in transition. That’s Collaborative Law.

The collaborative process is now law in Florida. ( 61.55-61.58, Florida Statutes). It is a voluntary process chosen by the clients, each represented by separate, collaboratively trained attorneys. The clients and attorneys, along with other collaborative professionals chosen to participate as process facilitators, child specialists, if needed, and financial neutrals, enter into a participation agreement which includes a withdrawal provision that prevents the attorneys or other professionals from participating in any future litigation between the clients. This team takes part in a series of problem-solving meetings which result, ultimately, in a marital settlement agreement or some other final consent agreement. Along the way, the professional team assists the family by educating them about financial matters, co-parenting, child development, and communication techniques that will help them transition from their current life and relationship to something different in the future.

Some professionals question whether the collaborative process is a good process choice for families. The newly enacted Collaborative Family Law Process Act requires attorneys to follow specific rules, procedural and ethical, to screen cases before entering into an agreement for representing a client in a collaborative family law matter. When consulting with potential clients, lawyers are now required to disclose certain information about alternative processes and fees for professionals engaged as part of the collaborative team. Professionals engaging in services for families – not just legal services, but also marital and family counseling, financial services, spiritual counseling, and child-focused services- need to learn about collaborative law in order to properly evaluate, advise, and refer the families and individuals they serve. Professionals already practicing collaborative law need to understand the newly enacted Collaborative Law Process Act, along with the new rules of procedure and professional conduct.

Whether you are new to collaborative family law, or just seeking to understand the new statute and rules, consider attending an interdisciplinary collaborative law overview at the 14th Annual Conference of the Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. This conference is designed to educate, inspire, and empower professionals serving families in transition. Save the date for the collaborative pre-conference seminar on September 25, 2017, and for the full conference from September 26-27, 2017. Find out more on the FLAFCC Conference page here


Patricia (PK) Jameson, & Staff of the Office of the State Courts Administrator (December 2016). Florida’s Trial Courts Statistical Reference Guide FY 2015-2016.Retrieved August 8, 2017, from

Martindale-Nolo Research (n.d.). Citing Websites. Divorce in Florida: How Much Does It Cost and How Long Does it Take,, Retrieved August 8, 2017, from
Submitted by: Connie J. Byrd, Esquire

Connie J. Byrd, Esquire
Connie J. Byrd, Esquire
Collaborative Divorce Parenting

Parental Alienation

Allegations of parental alienation are common in high conflict divorces. They are usually a function of deeper issues in the family including exposure to high intense marital conflict, humiliating separation, and professional mismanagement (Kelly & Johnston, 2001). The concept of family alienation was popularized by Gardner (2002) who describes it as a syndrome. This implies a specific set of symptoms that are displayed by the alienated child. The syndrome has not been validated by empirical research. Rather, alienation is more accurately described as a set of behaviors on the part of a parent which may or may not result in a child becoming alienated (Kelly & Johnston, 2001).

Wade Silverman, PhD
Wade Silverman, PhD

The alienated child is described by Kelly and Johnston (2001) as one who expresses disproportionately negative behavior about the alienated parent that is not consistent with his or her actual experience. Alienation may be expressed in degrees (Paul, 2014). Mild alienation may result in resistance towards visitation. Moderate alienation may involve the degradation of the alienated parent by the child. Severe alienation takes the form of false allegations and/or actual fear of contact with the alienated parent.

In an article by Baker and Darnall (2006), the most frequently reported alienated behaviors included “badmouthing”, interference with parental visitation and contact, limitation of mail and phone contact, interfering with information such as updating school or medical issues, emotional manipulation, unhealthy alliances such as spying and reporting back, and symbolic interferences such as returning Christmas cards.

Two of the major consequences of alienation on the child are fearfulness and low self-esteem (Mone & Biringen, 2006). These consequences can last into adulthood. Alienation has also been found in intact, high conflict marriages. The longer the alienation, the worse the outcome. Parental alienation may be described as a form of propaganda (Gottlieb, 2014) in which the alienated parent is characterized as dangerous, untrustworthy and harassing. The alienating parent expresses these beliefs in the presence of the child.

The treatment for parent alienation is reunification therapy. It should begin as soon as alienation is detected. Jones, Hardy, and Smyth (2015) warn that there is no guarantee of a successful outcome. This writer views parental unification therapy as a developmental process beginning with addressing timesharing issues with the child(ren), and then the child(ren) and alienated parent, and finally if possible, the child(ren) and both parents. Dagan and Ailon (2015) offer a checklist for therapists when consulting with lawyers to set up the process of reunification therapy. It includes arranging a conference call with both lawyers at the beginning of the case, reviewing the consent order to treat with emphasis upon the child’s best interests and indemnification of the mental health professional, reviewing the importance of the lawyer’s assistance, submission of the retainer agreement, review of the limits of confidentiality, reviewing the limitations of psychotherapy, and lastly the agreement of both lawyers to submit any pertinent documents.

Baker, A.J.L. & Darnell, D. (2006). Behaviors and Strategies Employed in Parental Alienation, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 45: 1-2, 97-124, doi:10.1300/J087v4n01 06

Dagan H. & Ailon, E. (2015). Workshop 55: It’s All in the Architecture: A Blue Print for Successful Reunification Therapy [PowerPoint slides]. AFCC 52nd Annual Conference, Children in the Court System: Different Doors, Different Responses, Different Outcomes. Retrieved from:

Gardner, R.A. (2002). Parental Alienation Syndrome vs. Parental Alienation: Which Diagnosis Should Evaluators Use in Child-Custody Disputes, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 30:2, 93-115, doi: 10.1080/019261802753573821

Kelly, J.B, & Johnston J.R. (2001). The Alienated Child: A Reformation of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Family Court Review, Vol. 39, No. 3, 249-266. Retrieved from:

Mone, J.G. & Biringen, Z. (2006). Perceived Parent-Child Alienation, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 45:3-4, 131-156, doi: 10.1300/J087v45n03 07

Paul, H. A. (2014). The Parent Alienation Syndrome: A Family Therapy and Collaborative Systems Approach to Amelioration, by L. Gottlieb. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 36(1), 71-79. doi:10.1080/07317107.2014.878199

FLAFCC recognizes the complex scholastic history of child resistance to a parent during a divorce. Specifically, there is ongoing academic discourse over the appropriate terminology, definitions, etiology, prognosis, and interventions for these cases. For example, in the literature on child resistance, there continues to be an ongoing debate of the use of terms such as parental alienation syndrome (PAS), parental alienation disorder, and parental alienation (Gardner, 1998; Bernet, 2010; Darnell, 2010). Some scholars have emphasized the importance of identifying background and personal factors that contribute to the child’s resistance to a parent and have adopted the term child alienation or alienated child to emphasize the individual child’s situation (Kelly & Johnston, 2001). Parental gatekeeping has been used to describe the continuum of parental attitudes and behaviors that affect the quality of the co-parent’s relationship with the child. On this continuum, unjustified restricted gatekeeping can result in the alienation of the child from the resisted parent, but not always (Austin, Fieldstone, Pruett, 2012). The following article is published to further the discussion and awareness of the restricted gatekeeping behaviors on the part of the parent resulting in the resistance of the child. Full citations available upon request.