Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Divorce with collaboration? It can happen

It took only a few minutes, less time than your average Vegas wedding. And that included the hugs and handshakes afterward and the photographer snapping pictures of the smiling couple with the officiating judge.

Except what happened Friday morning in Hillsborough Judge Laurel Lee's courtroom was actually a marriage irretrievably broken: a divorce.

But this was "collaborative" divorce — which sounds like a contradiction in terms if you've ever heard tales of couples locked in long, bitter legal battles over who gets the candy dish.

Pamela Burton and Tyler Nelson became the first in Florida, at least according to their (collaborative) lawyers, to have a pro bono collaborative divorce. This meant their counsel, plus a psychologist and an accountant involved in reaching a mutually agreeable settlement instead of engaging in a traditional court fight, all worked for free.

(Important program note: Collaborative divorces are generally no more free than regular ones. But the true believers involved decided to go pro bono on this one to raise awareness of a different way of doing divorce.)

When I covered the courthouse as a reporter, there was this saying: In criminal court, you see bad people at their best, hoping to convince a judge and jury. In divorce court, you see good people at their worst.

Judges and lawyers can tell you horror stories of people in pain pitted on opposite sides and fighting to the death over who gets the pots and pans. Or, in one case I heard about, a broken dishwasher. You have to think it wasn't really about the dishwasher.

"I've been doing divorces for 20 years," attorney-for-the-wife Joryn Jenkins told me. "And it's just not right for married couples, (particularly those) who have children, to go to war."

In collaborative divorce, the lawyers work together. The agreed-upon experts brought in — a mental health professional, a financial person — are neutral and there to work toward the best possible end for both sides. (In this case, lawyer-for-the-husband Adam Cordover told me, the accountant actually found a tax break involving the couple's child that saved them money.)

Clearly, it's not for anyone mostly interested in scorched earth.

"I think it's genius," said Hillsborough family law judge Catherine Catlin. "You take the decision away from the person sitting in a robe in the courtroom, who's a stranger to your children."

Jennifer Mockler, the psychologist in the case, echoed that: "I would just rather the parties themselves try to reach an agreement, rather than a judge who doesn't really know them."

Used for years around the country, these divorces have appealed to celebrities and the rich. Details of finances and such can be kept from the public record when couples are not duking it out in court.

Friday, the judge reviewed the couple's financial affidavits and settlement, made sure everyone was indeed on board, and that was that. Not "I do," but I don't anymore, and collaboratively.

After the most remarkable divorce I ever sat through was done, everyone stepped out the courthouse doors into the sun for a few more arm-in-arm pictures in front of the statue of Lady Justice. Then the just-unmarried couple said goodbye and walked off their separate ways.

For more information, you can go to CDITB.com.

Divorce with collaboration? It can happen 09/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 20, 2013 11:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  2. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy

    Retail

    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Four questions with Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith before he helps lead the St. Pete Pride parade

    Human Interest

    A decade ago, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith was afraid to tell his friends and family he was gay.

    Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith will serve as a grand marshal at the St. Pete Pride parade on Saturday. [City of Largo]
  4. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. What you need to know for Friday, June 23

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Graffiti butts are everywhere in downtown St. Pete. What's going on? [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times]