Eldercaring Initiative

Eldercaring Coordination – An Introduction to the Newest Alternative Dispute Resolution Method in Florida

By Linda Fieldstone, Maria C. Gonzalez and Honorable Michelle Morley

I. Gray Divorces:

The divorce rate for those ages 55 to 64 is on the rise according to the U.S. Census Bureau..1 The high- profile divorce of Bill Gates (age 65) and Melinda Gates (age 56) after 27 years of marriage added to the statistic of gray divorces. Not surprisingly, the state of Florida ranks among the top 10 states with the highest gray divorce rates.2 One explanation for the increase may be that life expectancy has increased. Why stay in an unhappy relationship when you have a significant number of years left to enjoy? A recurring topic in gray divorces is who handled the finances, investments and savings and if both parties are now able to adequately handle their respective finances. Gray divorces often present issues or decisions relating to retirement, social circles, where to reside, healthcare and social security, among others. It also brings with it decision- making minus the customary partner to consult with and the impact or role that adult children may now play in their single parents’ lives.

II. Remove Emotions From the Process:

If “the devil is in the details” then the dollars are in the emotional and non-legal arguments that go hand-in-hand with gray divorce cases. Sometimes parties to a dissolution of marriage are manipulated by the emo tions inherent in the proceedings. For example, guilt causing unnecessary concession; hope for reconciliation rousing extravagant generosity; jealousy driven unreasonable demands; fear precluding progress. When multiple non-parties and loved ones are fanning the flames of those emotions the chance that the case will be bogged down by non-legal issues increases, particularly if the non-parties are exerting influence over fragile aging persons. Regretabbly, those emotions may serve to fuel a party’s zeal to obtain a given result in court and some attorneys fail to recognize how to best counsel and advise their clients to consider alternative dispute resolution methods. Instead, deposition, mediation and the courtroom all offer opportunities to render emotions raw, intentionally or not. Everyone adopts a win-lose mentality. Alliances forge on both sides. Rather than focusing on outcomes that are fair and in the best interest of each party, the focus remains emotional, progress is delayed and costs of litigation mount.

III. How is Eldercaring Coordination Different?:

Eldercaring coordination offers a different tactic. • First, eldercaring coordination is private and confidential. What is discussed is not open to the public like a courtroom. This may serve to be extremely valuable to the family members involved. • Second, it is forward-focused, helping the participants move on from past vendettas and personal interests to focus on the needs of their aging loved one. While concentrating everyone’s attention on the needs and safety of the aging loved one, the Eldercaring Coordinator (“EC”) also redirects the parties and non-party participants away from history and blame. The EC helps them capitalize on their respective strengths and abilities, what each can do to care for their aging loved one or persons who surround the older adult to keep them safe. • Third, addressing matters in eldercaring coordination does not require a written motion, coordination of a hearing date and time, filing of a notice of hearing, waiting weeks for the hearing, subpoena and preparation of witnesses, eliciting of damaging testimony and development of adversarial argument; waiting for a ruling or drafting and circulating a proposed order. Instead, eldercaring coordination involves contacting the EC to advise of an issue; meeting with the EC; sometimes by phone, sometimes in person, sometimes virtually; sometimes immediately and other times within days; a discussion of the issue with all affected parties; pushing away hurt feelings, grudges, and other emotional baggage to focus the energy on a positive solution to the issue. Everyone learns to communicate and negotiate more effectively with one another so that everyone feels that they have been heard. When legal issues remain, the parties return to court for a streamlined hearing that uses everyone’s time most efficiently because the emotionality is removed from the courtroom. • Fourth, the number of hearings and the length of hearings is reduced when eldercaring coordination is used to address the emotional and non-legal issues. The parties are better prepared for mediation because they can remain issue focused instead of conflict focused. Judicial effort may now focus on issues of law; and • Fifth, the financial cost is significantly reduced for each party due to the reduced number and length of hearings, and the division of the EC’s fees among the parties instead as compared to each party bearing their own litigation expenses. The older adults, to the extent possible, are making their own decisions rather than handing the decisions over to a judge. From the Court’s perspective, when a case is referred to eldercaring coordination, ideally the priority of family hostility and conflict has now significantly shifted. The work of the EC has enabled the family to become more cognizant of the needs and wishes of their aging loved one. They now recognize how the conflict historically interfered with those needs and wishes. There is less emotionality at hearings. Fewer hearings are needed. Emergencies are being dealt with outside of court. Hearings are shorter, are addressing strictly legal issues, and are streamlined.

IV. How Does Eldercaring Coordination Work?:

The EC is appointed typically for a period of two years. The first few months enable a relationship to develop between the family members and the EC. The family becomes more familiar with the process and the EC helps them identify issues as they relate to their aging loved one(s). They work together to develop a dynamic “eldercaring plan” to provide for the aging person’s changing needs, care and well-being, and also serves to chart their progress. Perhaps one of the greatest tools in the eldercaring coordination toolbox is the use of an “eldercaring plan,” “a continually reassessed plan for the items, tasks, or responsibilities needed to provide for the care and safety of an aging person which is modified throughout eldercaring coordination to meet the changing needs of the beloved senior and which takes into consideration the preferences and wishes of the aging person. The plan is not a legally enforceable document, but is meant for use by the parties and participants.”3 As the family assesses what has been accomplished since their last meeting and what needs to be achieved until their next meeting, the eldercaring plan provides a constantly changing roadmap to provide for the older adult’s changing needs, as well as a chart of the progress the family has made within the eldercaring coordination process. When services are needed to assist the older adult and family members, the EC can refer them to resources that will meet those needs, including financial planners, accountants, therapists, faith-based support, Veterans Administration, mediators, or lawyers, although typically the parties are already represented when they first appear in court. After some transparent and positive conversation within the confidentiality of the eldercaring coordination process, families might realize that dissolution of the aging person’s marriage is not the best outcome for the aging person. They may begin to appreciate the daily efforts of the spouse, who has the most exposure to the difficult transitions and challenges of aging experienced on a daily basis. Or, the arrangement might be to maintain the couple separately, but not dissolve the marriage so that such marital benefits as continuing health care coverage, or pension benefits, remain in place. If dissolution of the marriage is the best outcome, and everyone has had the chance to acquire the skill to put aside emotions, the dissolution process becomes simpler. Throughout the dissolution process and following, the family may have more time to respond to the transitions of their aging loved one. The eldercaring plan will gradually and responsively lay out the steps of those transitions. If there are unanticipated circumstances associated with those transitions, the family can save money and obtain results more rapidly by returning to eldercaring coordination instead of court to sort things out. Compliance with a solution that family members worked out themselves is more likely. The Court is not having to find time for emergency hearings. The family is not destroying itself or the marriage of their aging loved one with accusations and reproach. The older adult is not at the center of family conflict anymore. The needs, wishes and safety of the aging person have become the priority rather than vendettas and grudges. If the EC is needed for more than two years, the appointment may be extended by the court.

V. Some History:

Eldercaring coordination has been studied since its inception by Virginia Tech University through pre- and post-surveys4 of initial eldercaring coordination cases which revealed the following: • 100% of the judges reporting described eldercaring coordination as “a very effective intervention for high conflict families”; 82% of magistrates and eldercaring coordination program administrators described it as “very effective”, with the rest responding “somewhat effective.” • 81% of the judges reported that court appearances were reduced as a result of eldercaring coordination. • Risks to elders were reduced as ECs identified: abuse/neglect; coercion; exploitation; vulnerability/deception/coercion; isolation; unsafe environment; physical challenges; caregiver capacity; and substance abuse/mismedication. Eight circuits in Florida (5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 18th) served as pilot project sites for eldercaring coordination between 2015 and 2021. During this period, other conflict resolution processes, such as elder mediation have gained momentum. However, just as with parents in conflict regarding their minor aged children, mediation and court processes appear to augment the discord when family dynamics are overwrought with conflict. Similar to parents of younger families who require a different process (i.e., parenting coordination) to meet the challenges of their animosity, older families in conflict need a similar process suited to them as well. With one in four adults over the age of 50 likely to divorce5, eldercaring coordination is a promising option for older families to address issues regarding the care and safety of their aging loved ones outside of a contentious courtroom. Eldercaring coordination was specifically developed to meet the unique needs and characteristics of older families in conflict regarding the care and safety of an older adult. Guidelines for Eldercaring Coordination6 were created in 2014 by twenty Florida statewide entities and twenty U.S. and Canadian organizations7 who worked collaboratively in Task Forces convened by the Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) and the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR). In addition to older adults and their families, these esteemed collaborating organizations were highly aware of the implications of the growing number of aging persons entering the court system, already beset as Baby Boomers hit the “elder” age. According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), 2018 Census Bureau’s projects that, next to California, Florida has the greatest number of Americans 65 or older8, with one of every four Floridians over 65 by 2030 according to the Florida Health Care Association9. The expanding caseload of the court, that is already limited financially, is likely to result in greater delays in court actions which could keep elders in already precarious positions where family members are at odds over the control of their care. StayWell/WellCare, a Medicare/ Medicaid provider in Florida, formally recognized that family conflict is a health issue for elders. Traditional court processes, based on a win-lose mentality, often exacerbate conflict. Eldercaring coordination safeguards older adults from family conflict by providing them a private forum, in a timely manner, to address non-legal care issues outside of court actions.

VI. Florida’s § 44.407, Florida Statute:

Florida is the first state to enact a statute on eldercaring coordination, spearheaded by the Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) with sponsorship by Senator Dennis Baxley and Representative Brett Hage. Florida’s Legislators confirmed their endorsement of the process through their unanimous votes throughout the legislative process including the floor of both Houses. Effective July 2021, § 44.407 F.S.10, Florida judges now have specific legislative authority to refer older adults and their families to an eldercaring coordinator (EC), an extensively trained and experienced high conflict resolution specialist, who: • Enables more effective communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills; • Offers education about eldercare resources; • Facilitates the creation, modification or implementation of an eldercaring plan; • Recommends how to resolve non-legal conflict; and • Makes procedural decisions within the scope of a court order or with the parties’ prior approval.11 Similar to parenting coordinators, ECs are qualified by each Florida circuit they serve. According to § 44.407 4(5)(a), Florida Statute, ECs have at least a master’s degree and are licensed or certified in Florida in specific fields of practice such as psychologists, physicians, nurses, family mediators, attorneys or professional guardians. In addition, as highly trained conflict resolution specialists, ECs have completed training in a family mediation program certified by the Florida Supreme Court, a 16-hour elder mediation course and 28-hour eldercaring coordination training; the latter two components will eventually be combined to form a total 44-hour course that is certified by the Florida Supreme Court12. The Florida Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy Committee is working on the rules, procedures and forms to provide the Court’s framework for eldercaring coordination in the state. Because eldercaring coordinators are appointed for a period of up to two years, they are able to assist the older adult and family throughout the transitions of the aging process. This gives the EC the opportunity to identify patterns that pose risks for the aging person, including possible abuse and exploitation. Since ECs have the time to establish relationships with the families, it is not unusual for past transgressions to be exposed while current motivations of the family members surface over time. When combating members of blended families are a component of a gray divorce, that may include old and new spouses, biological and step-children, in-laws and grandchildren all competing for control. When the multitude of those involved, including non-parties, are intensifying emotions and strengthening allegiances rather than promoting cooperation for the sake of the aging person, the case may be overwhelmed by non-legal issues that may further threaten the care, safety, happiness and autonomy of the aging person. The 2-year term of the EC provides the time needed to reinforce collaboration even when connections between blended family members may be permanently ruptured. ECs are mandated reporters to the Florida Child and Adult Abuse Hotline. According to the World Health Organization13, while one of 6 older adults is likely to experience abuse, only 1 in 24 cases are reported. In Florida, 75% of verified reports include family members as perpetrators.14 While an investigator is exploring allegations of abuse, the EC continues to shield the elder and keep the family conflict at bay.

VII. Is it Multigenerational?:

Family conflict regarding an aging person affects all generations. Sibling arguments may threaten their own marriages and romantic relationships due to the heightened emotional stress involved as well as depleted resources – time and money – now spent on legal actions including experts hired to prove their cases in court. Family alliances threaten long-term relationships that include the youngest in the family. Sometimes children are no longer permitted to see their beloved grandparent or great-grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin. ECs are constantly emphasizing the adverse effects of family discord and helping the family discover options to move from blame and the past toward healing in the future where children have better modeling for resolving conflict. As stress decreases for everyone, the children are learning how to build on strengths rather than building walls as their social capital broadens once again. VIII. Conclusion: ECs help families develop a support system, starting with the strengths each family member brings to the process. By learning to collaborate more effectively, the older adult and family are more cooperative when working with essential service providers whether obtaining legal and financial advice, mental health support, professional care or medical treatment. As the older adult’s voice is elevated over personal agendas of family members, resources are no longer duplicated, but are optimized to provide for the elder’s best interests and preferences, without competing impositions and distractions. Mediation becomes more effective when the parties are able to focus on the issues, having vented the conflict and the blame, and learned in eldercaring coordination how to put that aside. In every location interested in eldercaring coordination, there has been a heightened awareness and use of elder mediation, which will be especially useful if issues regarding wills and estates resurface after the older adult’s death. Not only is the aging person protected from the family conflict throughout the process, but the family has the opportunity to create a legacy that would make their aging loved one proud. Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed., Co-Chair of the Association for Conflict Resolution Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination, is former president of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and its Florida Chapter. She was instrumental in the development of parenting coordination in Florida and internationally, while serving as Supervisor of Family Court Services in the 11th Judicial Circuit, Florida, providing services to families in conflict for 26 years. In 2018, Ms. Fieldstone presented on eldercaring coordination to the United Nations and was honored with the Sharon Press Excellence in ADR Award from the Florida Supreme Court for her “visionary leadership, professional integrity, and unwavering devotion to ADR” and the “Dispute Resolution Center Award of Appreciation in recognition of her work with Judge Michelle Morley in “institutionalizing eldercaring coordination with the Florida Court System.” Maria C. Gonzalez, Esq. is managing partner at the law firm of Maria C. Gonzalez, P.A. in South Florida and practices exclusively in marital and family law. She is Board Certified in Marital and Family Law (1997) and is past-Chair of The Family Law Section of the Florida Bar. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and past-Chair of The Florida Bar Marital and Family Law Certification Committee. Ms. Gonzalez is current President of the Florida Chapter of The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (FLAFCC) and achieved Board Certification in Family Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA). She is on the Board of Directors of The Florida Bar Foundation. In 2018, Ms. Gonzalez was appointed to the Ad Hoc Committee tasked with updating the Bounds of Advocacy which establishes aspirational ethical goals for family law attorneys. She was appointed and also served on the Florida Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism and Civility. Ms. Gonzalez co-authored the electronic communication statute, Section 61.13003, Florida Statutes, which took effect in 2007. She is past- President of the First Family Law American Inn of Court. She was the recipient of The Honorable Raymond T. McNeal Professionalism Award and of The Honorable Hugh Stearns Community Service Award. She has been featured in Florida SuperLawyers and selected as one of the top 5% Marital and Family lawyers in Florida (2006 to 2021) and recognized as “Top Lawyers in South Florida” by South Florida Legal Guide. She has an “AV” rating by Martindale-Hubbell and is listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers. Ms. Gonzalez is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator and a Certified Marital Law Arbitrator by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She frequently lectures and publishes on a variety of family law topics and is a strong advocate to promote Board Certification. Judge Michelle Morley has been a Circuit Court Judge, Fifth Judicial Circuit, Sumter County, assigned to family, probate, guardianship and mental health Divisions as well as other civil matters since 2007. She is an inaugural winner of the FLAFCC 2021 Trailblazers Award and received a 2021 Florida Dispute Resolution Center Award of Appreciation. She was inducted into the Stetson University College of Law Hall of Fame in 2019. She is the recipient of the 2019 William E. Gladstone Award for her judicial leadership and service to Florida’s children. She is Co-Chair of the Florida Eldercaring Coordination Initiative. She is served as a Special Advisor to the Clerks & Comptrollers’ Guardianship Task Force. She is a member of the U. S. Department of Justice Elder Abuse Intervention Model Advisory Board. She was both a Stakeholder and an Advisor to the Florida W.I. N.G. S. program and served on the Florida Supreme Court’s Guardianship Workgroup. She serves on the Florida Court Education Council. She is Chair of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. She has presented at the United Nations, the U. S. Department of Justice, the International Federation on Ageing Global Conference on Ageing, Florida Judicial College, the Florida Conference of Circuit Court Judges Annual Conference, the College of Advanced Judicial Studies, the AFCC Annual National Conference, the FLAFCC Annual State Conference, the State of Florida Department of Children and Families Annual Summit, the Australia National Mediation Conference, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Annual Conference, the National College of Probate Judges, the Ohio Supreme Court, the Idaho Magistrate Judges Conference and the Michigan Probate Judges Conference.


1 U.S. Census Bureau, visualizations/interactive/marriage-divorce-rates-by- state.html. “Amongst adults aged 50+, the national divorce rate has roughly doubled since 1990. For those aged 65+, it has actually tripled, from 2 in 1,000 married persons to 6 in 1,000.” Divorce Rate in America [35 stunning stats for 2021], Jan., 28, 2021. ( america/). 2 Allred, C. (2019). Gray divorce rate in the U.S.: Geographic variation, 2017. Family Profiles, FP-19-20. Bowling Green, OH: National Center for Family & Marriage Research. https://doi. org/10.25035/ncfmr/fp-19-20. 3 § 44.407 F.S. (1)(5)(g). 4 Reported at The National Guardianship Association Conference, November 15, 2019, “The Local and National Implementation and Evaluation of Eldercaring Coordination,” and the Gerontological Society of America Conference, November 16, 2019, “The Use of Eldercaring Coordination for Resolving Cases Involving Older Adults and High-Conflict Family Dynamics.’ 5 Report: Senior divorces have doubled in frequency, senior-divorces-have-doubled-in-frequency/, June 7, 2019. 6 Association for Conflict Resolution Guidelines for Eldercaring Coordinators (2015). Family Court Review, Vol. 53 No. 4, October 2015 545–564; ©2015 Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. 7 List of ACR and FLAFCC Task Force Organization: https:// Population Reference Bureau; retrieved 10/17/21: 9 Florida Health Care Association; retrieved 10/17/21: 10 § 44.407 F.S.: index.cfm?mode=View%20Statutes&SubMenu=1&App_ mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=44.407& U RL=0000-0099/0044/Sections/0044.407.html 11 § 44.407 F.S. (2)(d). 12 OSCA Memo 7/1/2021 13 World Health Organization. Elder Abuse, https://www. 14 Robert Anderson, former Florida Department of Adult Protective Services.

Eldercaring Initiative

Florida Enacts Landmark Eldercaring Coordination Statute

Thank you to The Florida Bar Family Law Section for publishing an announcement about Florida’s new eldercaring coordination statute. FLAFCC 2020-2021 President Maria Gonzalez, Linda Fieldstone, M.ED and the Honorable Michelle Morley wrote the article as a teaser for a longer article that will be published soon in the Family Law Section’s Commentator magazine. CLICK HERE to read more.

Eldercaring Initiative Elders


United Nations Presentation in Honor of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: Focusing on Advancing Autonomy for Older Persons and Preventing Abuse and Neglect

by Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed., Judge Michelle Morley, Sue Bronson, LCSW

It was an enormous honour to be at the United Nations for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to talk about eldercaring coordination, a conflict resolution process developed specifically to protect the autonomy and safety of ageing persons. Thank you to the International Federation on Ageing, and the reminder it gives us to raise our collective consciousness about the treatment of our ageing, and to all of you for your work in that direction.

Let your mind wander off for a minute, to the warm and aromatic kitchen of an ageing person who is surrounded by loving family members, all focused on the ageing person’s care, safety and well-being. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and the family has come for a visit. While growing older has its challenges, this parent or grandparent’s ageing process is an inspiration, a source of joy for the family, celebrating the life of their ageing loved one and the many happy occasions shared throughout the years together.

Now imagine, instead, if you were an ageing person losing independence, feeling scared, sad and alone, perhaps confused and isolated from loved ones. Instead of at your kitchen table, your grandchildren are home alone while family members are seated opposite one another in a courtroom to argue over your care. The tables between them have become battlegrounds for revenge, blame and ridicule. For some families, overseeing a loved one’s transitions through ageing can be a painful reminder of the past. They remember the tumultuous ways in which they have dealt with disagreement and become consumed by disappointment, anger and loss. Instead of being supportive during the ageing person’s transition, their personal positions over-ride their ageing loved one’s needs and safety. Now, the family members only see each other when they go to court, urging their lawyers to degrade and belittle one another. Strategic litigation tactics heighten the hostility between them as the ageing person fades dramatically into the background, whispering, I just want my family to get along!

Eldercaring Coordination is a solution – for the ageing person’s anguish and the family’s aggressive actions. Eldercaring Coordination is a compassionate, court-alternative response to family conflict, one that engenders respect and protection for the ageing person. This court-ordered dispute resolution option focuses on reducing family conflict and minimizing risks and abuse to respect and preserve the dignity and quality of life of ageing persons. To do that, the ageing person’s voice must be at the centre of the conversation, yet all the voices of concerned family members must be heard.

How can that happen A high conflict family dispute resolution specialist called an Eldercaring Coordinator helps families refocus on the ageing person, set their disagreements aside peacefully, and elevate the ageing person’s needs and preferences. Families are referred to eldercaring coordination in a court proceeding, once the family conflict is identified by the court, or upon the request of the ageing person, family, attorney or guardian. They can be recognized by their frequent motions to the court regarding non-legal issues, cross allegations and unsubstantiated claims, safety concerns, and withholding of information, money, time and affection of the ageing person. The court orders who participates in eldercaring coordination: the elder, legally authorized decision-makers, and others by invitation. Why does it take a court order when we want to enable the family to resolve disputes out of court Because all too often family members in conflict refuse to meet together unless they are court-ordered to do so.

The eldercaring coordinator enables family members to develop more effective communication and problem-solving skills, and to develop and implement a care plan that is flexible according to the transitions of the ageing person. As the needs of the ageing person change, the family returns to the eldercaring coordinator, rather than reverting to the gavel of a judge for decision-making on non-legal issues.

Family conflict regarding ageing persons is an issue without borders, a global issue, unattached to economic, racial, religious, ethnic or national boundaries. Worldwide, our ageing population is growing exponentially as people are living longer. Where ageism exists, the mistreatment of ageing persons perpetuates the potential for adverse effects on their families. Family conflict involving ageing persons is not just a social problem, it is a medical problem, with health implications. The effects of conflict on this vulnerable population is a societal issue, involving not only the quality of life but the length of life of our oldest population. Research shows the many ways that an ageing person’s health is compromised when caregivers are overburdened, treatment is delayed, decisions are obstructed, and their safety is jeopardized by family conflict. And it doesn’t stop there The cumulative effects of prior and current generational conflict are harmful, resulting in a lack of social capital and accrued interpersonal skill deficits. So, even the youngest generations benefit through eldercaring coordination, as it reduces the tension of their parents, heals ruptures in family relationships, and provides a dignified model of conflict resolution for them to integrate. Recognizing that high conflict in families is a health issue for ageing persons, United States StayWell Medicare/Medicaid health plan provider has contributed to providing scholarship funds for eldercaring coordination in Florida. Eldercaring coordination is based on the idea that with open communication and effective planning, family members can come to the best resolution to resolve disputes, said Elizabeth Miller, president of Staywell Health Plan. Ongoing conflict can put undue stress on a family and delay needed medical treatment and therapies, adversely impacting the health of elders and their children. When we help our ageing loved ones, we are helping our children as well.

Therefore, it is unconscionable that our attention to the abuse of ageing persons lags twenty years behind our focus on child abuse. The World Health Organization estimates that one of every six people 60 or older will suffer some form of abuse, with only 1 in 24 incidents reported, even though spouses and adult children are the most likely perpetrators. We all have family secrets and in older families, the members have even more time to become experts at keeping them hidden. The root of some secrets can lie deep, sometimes covered protectively by fear, and sometimes covered by shame, intimidation and coercion. An accusation based on assumptions and conclusions from limited information can be difficult to discern from actually hidden abuse. Ongoing exploitation may not be admitted even when confronted. Uncovering the truth becomes even more complicated in high conflict situations as harsh feelings, misperceptions and baseless conclusions cloud and conceal the reality behind family secrets.

Eldercaring coordination becomes the key to unlocking these mysteries and safeguarding the elder from conflict, threats of harm and risky situations. Eldercaring Coordinators use a trauma-informed, person-centred approach so they are better able to guide families through a supported decision-making process that protects the health, safety and well-being of their ageing loved ones. The eldercaring coordinator is trained extensively and experienced with how abuse may be minimized, rationalized, and kept a secret. Since Eldercaring Coordinators are court ordered to work with families for up to two years, it gives them time to develop relationships and hear the concerns of each person participating. They provide ongoing screening and are sensitive to hints of abuse, neglect and exploitation through unfolding conversations. When risks are present, Eldercaring Coordinators help families distinguish drama caused by vendettas from what is credible, so family members can provide the right response to protect their ageing loved ones. Eldercaring Coordinator is there to complement, not replace, services and can help the family develop a support system, connect them with available resources as needed, and notify appropriate authorities when warranted.

How was eldercaring coordination developed In 2013, the Association for Conflict Resolution convened twenty well respected the United States and Canadian organizations, who worked with the twenty statewide organizations assembled by the Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. The Association for Conflict Resolution Guidelines for Eldercaring Coordination were unanimously approved the next year by those organizations, who recognized that it is time to protect our elders by engaging their families in the process of their care. There are currently six states in the United States with Pilot Sites for eldercaring coordination, and others interested in the United States as well as Canada and as far away as Australia. The eldercaring coordination process is being researched by Dr Pamela Teaster, director of the Center for Gerontology, and Dr Megan Dolbin-MacNab, Director of the Doctoral Program of Marriage and Family Therapy, both at Virginia Tech University. Their studies are informing best practices in eldercare coordination as it develops. The Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination provides the framework needed to foster the development of eldercaring coordination across the globe, with continuous support, including standardized procedures, forms and training. The Initiative is ready to include your communities to the growing number providing access to this unique conflict resolution process and help you bring eldercaring coordination to ageing persons and their families in your communities.
The benefits for eldercaring coordination is a distinct contrast to the cost of ongoing litigation and court fees:

  • Time, money and health are saved as conflict is reduced within the privacy of the eldercaring coordination process, outside of court;
  • Instead of incurring court related fees individually, including each expert testifying for each party in the court case, the fee of one Eldercaring Coordinator is shared by those participating in the process or, in some areas, scholarships may be offered;
  • At times, the humiliation of an ageing person being legally labeled incapacitated is completely avoided when family members are able to step in and work together;
  • The ageing person and family can respond to issues quickly, without having to wait for open court dockets to address emotional, non-legal issues in
  • Risks and safety issues are identified so the ageing person can be protected from harm and vulnerabilities
  • Best of all, families become better role models for their next generations when they are able to resolve disputes and engage in supported decision-making, respecting the need for safety and autonomy of their ageing loved

Even the youngest generations benefit through eldercaring coordination, as it reduces the tension of their parents, heals ruptures in family relationships, and provides a dignified model of conflict resolution for them to integrate.

Think of how you would want the story to unfold if it was your parent, grandparent OR YOU in the middle of family turmoil. Do you want to spend the last chapter amidst the downpour of flying accusations and heated arguments A situation ripe for abuse and exploitation. Or would you prefer to have a comforting time with family members collaborating to meet your needs and keep you safe Remember what parents want most. for the family to all get along! Eldercaring coordination honours that ageing persons wish by giving their family the tools and support needed to create a legacy their ageing loved one can feel proud of continuing for generations, a legacy of peace in the family.
For more information check out the Eldercaring Initiative Page or contact the Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination Co-Chairs:

Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed. |

Sue Bronson, LCSW |

Judge Michelle Morley |

Eldercaring Initiative Elders

Background of Eldercaring Coordination Initiative

By Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed., and Judge Michelle Morley


Five and a half years ago I reached out to your President Judge (Ret.) Sandy Karlan with an idea, which she permitted me to pitch to the FLAFCC Board after the annual membership meeting. With her support, the Board approved the creation of a Task Force to explore the possibility of creating a conflict resolution process for families struggling regarding the care and safety of an aging parent. My years at Family Court Services of the 11th Judicial Circuit had surely taught me that families do not age out of conflict, and it was disheartening that options for families with minor age children were not available for families as they grew older to help with discordant situations regarding an aging loved one.

Judge Michelle Morley was designated as my Co-Chair of the FLAFCC Task Force on Eldercaring Coordination We convened twenty statewide entities plus a well-credentialed Advisory Committee. Together we collaborated with the Association for Conflict Resolution Task Force on Eldercaring Coordination, comprised of twenty U.S. and Canadian organizations to develop Guidelines for Eldercaring Coordination. Eldercaring Coordination was premised upon parenting coordination, a dispute resolution process for parents in high conflict regarding child-related issues.

In 2015, the Task Forces merged into the Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination. Florida initiated eight Circuits as Pilot Sites, and they have been serving to pave the way for easily replicable pilot sites throughout the U.S., in Canada, and abroad. Thanks to FLAFCC, Florida is serving as a model for a more compassionate and more effective resolution alternative for elders and their families in conflict, and even more important, we are helping to redefine the operational definition of family to include the multi-generations that can better support and improve the lives of even the youngest members of the family. Imagine a world where all children were able to model respectful and collaborative problem-solving and approach others in their communities with respect and tolerance! FLAFCC is a leader toward that path.

In this issue of your FLAFCC Newsletter we hope you read:

We also hope that you check out the website. We look forward to your feedback.

The Eldercaring Coordination Initiative has been fortunate to have the support of Judge Sandy Karlan and all of your presidents since Jack Mooring, Robert Merlin, Rose Patterson, Jill Sanders, and Debra Weaver, as well as your Board of Directors. We want to acknowledge you and FLAFCC membership for your confidence, your assistance, and your ongoing encouragement. Together we can improve the lives of Florida families, young and old!


FLAFCC Eldercaring Coordination Initiative Co-Chairs:

Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed., was President of FLAFCC in 2005 and AFCC in 2011-2015, and Co-Chair with Sue Bronson of the Association for Conflict Resolution Task Force on Eldercaring Coordination.

Linda Fieldstone –

Judge Michelle Morley was an FLAFCC Board Member from 2008 through 2017 and in 2016 was appointed by Chief Justice Labarga to serve as both a Stakeholder and a Steering Committee Member of Florida’s W.I.N.G.S. Project as well as the Judicial Management Committee’s Guardianship Workgroup.

Judge Michelle Morley –

Eldercaring Initiative Elders



Eldercaring Coordination

by Judge Michelle Morley 5th Judicial Circuit

Less than three years after the eight Florida Eldercaring Coordination Pilot Project Sites first launched, eldercaring coordination has now been recognized by the United Nations. On June 14, 2018, Linda Fieldstone and I, the co-chairs of the Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Eldercaring Coordination Initiative, presented on eldercaring coordination with Sue Bronson, co-chair of the Association for Conflict Resolution Elder Justice Initiative, at a program sponsored by the NGO Committee on Ageing and the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse. It was attended by representatives from the U. N. Missions who are members of the Group of Friends of Older Persons. Eldercaring coordination was one of only two programs presented at the U. N. on behalf of North America.

There has been much discussion regarding eldercaring coordination and other guardianship issues becoming part of family divisions instead of probate divisions in order to avoid possible duplication of services, resources, and time from parties in the court. Eldercaring coordination is an alternative dispute resolution process that is intended to assist families driven by conflict over the care and future of an aging loved one. Modeled after parenting coordination, eldercaring coordination complements and works collaboratively with other professional services. Families are referred to eldercaring coordination by courts from guardianship, mental health, and adult protective services cases. Courts identify appropriate cases based on the following factors:

  • competing petitions to be appointed as guardian; or
  • inflammatory allegations demeaning other family members; or
  • failure to resolve issues in mediation, or
  • repeated and frequent motions raising emergency matters; or
  • family members with a win/lose mentality; or
  • imbalances of power sometimes because of financial abilities, and sometimes because of the formation of alliances between family members; or
  • other similar indicators of high conflict within the family.

Eldercaring Coordinators (ECs) are trained and qualified to work with family members and help them to let go of their differences, build commonalities, and focus their energy on the needs and welfare of their elders. Eldercaring coordination manages family dynamics, provides a support system as the elder transitions to distinct levels of care, addresses risks, and promotes the safety of the elder, including monitoring situations where caregivers may be over-extended. Eldercaring coordination fosters self-determination of the aging loved one for as long as possible. The EC is appointed for a period of time up to two years so that the family can return to eldercaring coordination instead of court if new issues arise.

Fees for eldercaring coordination vary. The ECs set their own fees just like any other professionals. The Eldercaring Coordination Pilot Project Site Administrator works to best match a family to an EC who is the most accessible, affordable, culturally appropriate, and best-suited to the issues the family brings to the table. The judge referring the family to eldercaring coordination will allocate the EC’s fees among the parties. StayWell, the managing entity for Medicaid and Medicare in Florida and many other states, has bestowed a grant of $1,000 per pilot project site in recognition of family conflict being a healthcare issue for aging persons. StayWell hopes that its grant will enable more families to use the eldercaring coordination process to address family conflict. Beginning in 2019, StayWell members in Florida may also apply their coverage to the cost of eldercaring coordination when recommended by their care managers. This is a landmark.

The American Arbitration Association Foundation has provided a grant to supplement the cost for training ECs. At least one training for ECs is being planned for the fall as Maryland is piloting a new site, and Ohio and Idaho are expanding their pilot sites. Toronto, Ontario, and Orange County, California are also hoping to launch new Eldercaring Coordination Pilot Project Sites soon, too. The feedback that has been received on this groundbreaking approach to conflict in families caring for elders has all been positive. In one case, the presiding judge remarked that it saved the life of an elder whose care was in abeyance until the EC helped the family develop a care plan. In another case, the elder remarked that this was the best Father’s Day he ever had because eldercaring coordination enabled family members, who had been blocked from visiting, to finally have access to him. The EC works with the family to develop better communication and negotiating skills so that the court does not have to micromanage the elder’s care. The judges who have referred cases to eldercaring coordination notice a marked reduction in the number if not a total elimination of contested hearings in those cases.
The following Florida jurisdictions are currently participating in the Eldercaring Coordination Pilot Project:

  • 5th Judicial Circuit (Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter Counties)
  • 7th Judicial Circuit (Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns, and Putnam Counties)
  • 9th Judicial Circuit (Orange and Osceola Counties)
  • 12th Judicial Circuit (Manatee and Sarasota Counties)
  • 13th Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County)
  • 15th Judicial Circuit (Palm Beach County)
  • 17th Judicial Circuit (Broward County)
  • 18th Judicial Circuit (Seminole and Brevard Counties).

If you are not in a pilot site circuit but are interested in bringing eldercaring coordination to your circuit, contact Linda Fieldstone ( or Michelle Morley ( for more information. The process is simple. You will receive assistance in identifying people already in your Circuit who can be trained to become Eldercaring Coordinators. All the forms you will need to refer cases have been drafted in a template and will be made available for your use. You will receive preliminary training in identifying and referring cases, and an invitation to monthly meetings as well as continuous support available whenever you need it.

Those at the U.N. presentation understood the urgency of responding to elders and their loved ones in the throes of conflict, and its influence on all of the family members when asked to. Think of how you would want the story to unfold if it was your parent OR YOU in the middle of family turmoil when you are old, losing capacity, and afraid. Do you want to spend the last chapter amidst the downpour of flying accusations and heated arguments? A situation is ripe for abuse and exploitation. Or would you prefer to have a comforting time with family members collaborating to meet your needs and keeping you safe? Remember what parents want most for the family to all get along. Eldercaring coordination honors that aging person’s wish by giving their family the tools and support needed to create a legacy their aging loved one can feel proud of continuing for generations a legacy of peace in the family.

Click here to view the U. N. presentation. For more information on eldercaring coordination, click here and here.

Eldercaring Initiative Elders

Who Needs Eldercaring Coordination, Anyway?

by Kim W. Torres and Cher Myers

Eldercaring Coordination is a dispute resolution option developed specifically for high-conflict families that turn to the courts for resolutions related to the care and needs of an elder. The family dynamics can be disruptive, harmful or damaging to the elder and the elder’s ability to receive care and services, or threatening to the elder’s safety. The Eldercaring Coordinator (EC) serves as a court-appointed intermediary to work with the family, caregivers, guardians, attorneys, and other interested parties to facilitate the resolution of ongoing disputes. Eldercaring Coordination is intended to complement and not substitute for services such as legal representation, financial advice, therapy, medical services or mediation.

A Real Family’s Dilemma: The Simmons family was at an impasse. One group of siblings wanted Mom to live in Georgia, while another contingent wanted Mom to stay in Florida, where she had been for the last nine months. After Dad had passed, Mom had left her group-living home in Georgia, which she had shared with her husband for the past five years, and moved to Florida with her daughter Angie for support and assistance. The Georgia location was the most convenient for the four siblings outside of Florida, and Angie did not get along well with her brothers and sisters. The siblings had not seen Mom in six months at Angie’s house. Since her husband had died, Mom’s abilities had declined and she had established relationships with local physicians and care providers.

Angie and her sister, Beth, were now each seeking to be appointed the Guardian of Mom. The appointment would determine where Mom was to live. Which locale and living arrangements were better for Mom Could Mom handle the transition Would the family members support Mom wherever she was living

During the Hearing to determine Guardianship, the wise Judge made a difficult decision: allow Mom to return to the Georgia living facility for thirty days, and see how it goes. Because the parties were in the middle of a court proceeding, the Judge required that they be sequestered and not speak to each other, or anyone else, about the proceedings or circumstances. The Eldercaring Coordinator was appointed to communicate with all of the parties, coordinate visitation, consult with the physicians if necessary, and monitor progress with the director of the living facility. A couple of problems and disagreements arose which were addressed and resulted in better communication between the physicians, an adjustment of medication, and smoother visitation with all of the children of Mom. Each child was able to immediately express concerns when there was a problem with Mom’s care which was addressed and satisfied.

Interestingly, Mom made the transition back to Georgia fabulously. She remembered old friends and was active in the social community and events. All of the children were able to visit with Mom regularly with pleasant interactions. The court decided that Mom should stay in Georgia and appointed the Guardian accordingly.

How was the E.C. Able to Make a Difference for this Family?

  • The EC served as a vessel for communication between the contentious family members, buffering the reactive comments, and modeling a calm and respective demeanor.
  • The EC was able to communicate with all of the interested parties, even those that were not part of the court proceeding, to gain knowledge of relevant information to assist in decision-making. Thus, the EC eliminated the need for each family member to be in contact with the care providers and facility staff.
  • The EC allowed each party to vent, and then provided the opportunity to redirect the party’s emotions in a more constructive manner.
  • By communicating with the EC, it was not necessary for the parties to file motions with the court to get a response, or to be heard.
  • The EC’s involvement was almost immediate, with much interaction within a very short period of time for a response. Problems that arose were timely addressed and resolved without the need for other family members to intervene.
  • The EC was able to objectively identify the problems and suggest alternate behaviors for the parties to follow. When appropriate, the EC could validate the concern being expressed.
  • The EC was able to provide the court with an objective report indicating that all parties had an opportunity to communicate, participate and that the objectives ordered by the court had been satisfied.
  • The court could make a decision that was in the best interest of the Elder, with confidence that all family members had an opportunity to be heard and their concerns addressed.
  • The EC was better able to explain the court process to the family, as well as the role of guardians and to address the expectations of the family when a parent is declining in his/her abilities. The EC could recommend outside services to assist the family in their support and understanding.
  • By intervening quickly and reasonably, as well as educating the family as to options and realities, the family members were able to decide, with some level of comfort, that court action was not needed. This saved the family, and the elder, much money in legal fees, both now and in the future.
  • The family members were able to focus their energy and resources on supporting the elder. It also reduced the escalating tension between family members to hopefully allow for better communication in the future, and reaffirm their common goal of doing what was best for the elder.

A Brief Look Inside Another Family’s Dilemma:
The elder has not been able to see two of her four children for over two years due to the conflicts between the siblings. She was close to the end of her life and wanted her children to be able to be present with one another and to get along. As a result of the intervention from the Eldercaring Coordinator, schedules were created which allowed for visitation with all the children together and the elder. This cohesive effort by the children allowed the elder to maintain dignity during the dying process and enjoy the company of her family without tension or animosity.

  • The Eldercaring Coordination process also helped the children to let go of some past resentments and redirected their focus on their shared desire to do what was in the best interest of their Mother.
  • Communication and contact improved between two of the four siblings after the death of the elder. This, in turn, aided the two children in experiencing a more supportive and less painful grieving process after the loss of their Mother.

When Might Eldercaring be Effective?

  • When the problems arising among family members are based on emotion, not something that legal action can fix.
  • When parties seem to be receiving different information. Their opinions and decisions are not based on the same base of knowledge.
  • When the cost of addressing each family member’s concerns is draining the resources of the elder.
  • When the behavior and statements of the family members is disruptive to the elder.
  • When immediate intervention would likely make a difference.
  • When family members question and object to the decisions and actions of the Guardian.
  • When there is concern for the care and safety of the elder.
  • When there is an imbalance of power between the parties; some with legal representation or superior access than others.
  • When disputes are frequent and not subject to objective determination of the problem or result.
  • When some party/ies are exerting possessive or controlling behaviors toward the elder.

Obstacles to Utilizing Eldercaring Coordination:

  • Lack of Awareness of program by attorneys, Guardians, courts and care providers.

A: A coordinated effort to advise each Judicial Circuit and professionals within the Guardianship industry of the option of eldercaring coordination is taking place.

  • Reluctance by attorneys to engage another professional in the process.

A: In our experience, the EC relieves the attorney from frequent and emotional communications with the family members, allowing the attorney to focus more easily on legal issues at hand.

  • Anticipated additional expense for the elder, or unaffordability for the participants.

A: When successful, the process can save thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary litigation.
Eldercaring Coordination enables families to resolve disputes in a manner that respects the safety and autonomy of their aging loved ones. The Eldercaring Coordination Initiative is committed to helping the court and community focus on reducing the level of conflict in families as concerns about care and safety for their aging loved ones arise.
Kim W. Torres is an Eldercaring Coordinator and Certified Mediator in the 18th Judicial Circuit of Florida and Chair-Elect of the ADR Section of the Florida Bar. For almost 20 years, her mediation practice at Torres Mediation has focused on disputes that relate to emotional concerns and involve individuals, including Guardianship, pre-suit Divorce, foreclosure, and Homeowner Assoc. disputes.

Cher Myers, L.C.S.W. is an Eldercaring Coordinator in the 5th Judicial Circuit and Qualified Clinical Supervisor in the State of Florida, who owns her private practice in Lake County, also providing equine-assisted psychotherapy, counseling, parenting coordination. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker she has worked with high conflict cases for over 25 years.

(Any excerpt from Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination material was approved.)
For more information check out the Eldercaring Initiative Page or contact the Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination Co-Chairs:

Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed. |

Sue Bronson, LCSW |

Judge Michelle Morley |