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.