Today, more than ever, the preferred trend in domestic relations cases is to strive toward a settlement agreement, as opposed to resolution through litigation. Many judges and family law experts have concluded that traditional litigation is not the ideal paradigm for resolving family matters. Rather, an outcome reached through negotiation is often better outcome for the parties, as it tends to foster an environment of collaboration and teamwork rather than acrimony and competition between the former partners. It also a preferred outcome for the courts as well, as cases resolved by settlement are less likely to return before the court repeatedly.
It is this philosophy that has helped bring about the rise of what’s called “collaborative divorce,” a process in which the parties and their counsel pledge to make every reasonable effort to resolve the case through settlement. One person who can prove to be a key player in the collaborative divorce process is a mental health professional. Divorcing spouses will often be some the most highly stressed litigants to appear in a civil matter. Mental health professionals can be vital in helping the parties manage that stress, and their feelings about both their spouses and themselves. These professionals can also spot more serious issues that may impair the party’s ability to function, such as depression, and take steps to address those concerns.
Working Towards Acceptance, Cooperation
In some cases, one professional may be brought in to help both sides advance toward the goal of settlement. The professional serves as the “voice of reason,” helping to prevent the parties’ still-raw emotions, and arguments fueled by them, from derailing the group’s efforts of seeking out and reaching a fair and workable outcome for both sides. The mental health professional can be an invaluable asset when it comes to keeping the parties squarely focused on reaching a settlement and not slipping into rehashing the issues that caused the marriage to fall apart. In many divorces, one spouse has failed to come to terms with the end of the relationship and the reasons why the marriage failed. These unresolved feelings can impede the process of acceptance and slow down the process of agreement and conclusion of the divorce.
Mental Health Professional as “Divorce Coach”
In other cases, the parties and their counsel might retain multiple mental health professionals. Often the sides bring in two professionals, one for each spouse, to act as a “divorce coach.” Each coach helps his or her party to work through their own emotions about the divorce, thus aiding them in being in a rational, cooperative, collaborative and outcome-focused frame of mind when meeting with the other side. While mental health professionals generally focus on curative therapy or symptom treatment, a divorce coach’s job is narrower, focusing on helping the party manage the specific situations created by the divorce and helping them improve their skills of effective and constructive communication.
As divorce law and practice evolves, the value of negotiated settlements forged by the parties, as opposed to judicial edicts crafted as a result of contested litigation, is realized more and more. To help foster that collaborative process, mental health professionals are crucial. For help determining if these professionals can help you finalize your divorce in our area, contact an experienced Jacksonville divorce lawyer for advice and assistance.
Article By: William Dorsey Contact Us With Your Divorce Law Questions.
Many are familiar with the idea of prenuptial agreements. They are essentially contracts between spouses that lays out terms in case the marriage does not go as planned. However, there are various circumstances under which these agreements may not be enforceable. When going through a divorce with a “prenup” it is crucial to be aware of these issues.
The Basics of a Prenuptial Agreement
In 2007, Florida enacted its version of the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA). The law lays out the criteria under which a premarital agreement is not enforceable. The law declares that couples must enter premarital agreements voluntarily and the agreement must be free of fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching. Examples of the sort of duress that render an agreement unenforceable include threatening a spouse facing potential immigration-status issues with deportation or unexpectedly thrusting a premarital agreement on the other spouse, with no advanced warning, within mere days prior to the couple’s wedding ceremony. Florida’s inclusion of fraud, duress, coercion or overreaching as bases for denying enforcement is a variation from the original UPAA, which contained no such provisions.
Voluntariness & Knowledge Keys to Validity
Also, courts may declare premarital agreements unenforceable under an “unconscionable” standard. This essentially refers to cases where the terms are supremely unfair. However, to do so the court must not only find the agreement unconscionable but also conclude that the spouse against whom enforcement is sought did not receive adequate information about the spouse’s assets. Florida law requires that the information required constitute only a “general and approximate” knowledge of the other spouse’s financial condition. Specifically, the statute’s disclosure requirement mandates that the spouse against whom enforcement is sought:
Be provided a fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party
Voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party beyond the disclosure provided; and
Have, or have a reasonable opportunity to have, an adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party.
In a Prenuptial, Non-Disclosure Must be “Material”
In order for a failure to disclose to serve as the grounds for a successful challenge to the enforcement of a premarital agreement, the non-disclosed information must be material—meaning that it must be important and/or large enough to alter meaningfully the financial profile of the wealthier spouse. For example, if a spouse’s assets are worth $10 million dollars, her failure to disclose a savings account with a $2,500 balance would likely not be seen by a court as a material non-disclosure and would likely be insufficient, standing alone, to prevent enforcement on the basis of a failure to disclose.
The statute places the burden of proof on the spouse against whom enforcement is sought to prove that the agreement was involuntary, overreached, was the product of fraud, duress or coercion, or was unconscionable (and lacked the required disclosures regarding the other spouse’s financial circumstances).
Florida also crafted one additional circumstance under which a premarital agreement may not be enforced as written. If a premarital agreement calls for a reduction or total elimination of spousal support, and that term causes that spouse to qualify for government aid for the needy, then the law permits the court to order the other spouse to pay support to the impoverished spouse.
For help enforcing your prenuptial agreement, or determining if the prenuptial agreement you signed may actually be unenforceable under Florida law, contact an experienced Jacksonville divorce lawyer for a review and analysis of your case.