All entries for November 2014

Icard Merrill Attorneys Volunteer in New Family Court Program

The Guardian Ad Litem program is a well-established effort for helping kids who are neglected and abused. Until recently though, there was no such program for kids caught in high-conflict divorce cases.

Too often, judges struggle to obtain objective information about how the kids are faring in these difficult circumstances.

When launching the new program, judges in the 12th Judicial Circuit (Sarasota) Family Division reached out to Icard-Merrill about helping out. As of this writing, we are proud to announce that almost 25 attorneys have volunteered.

Attorneys who participate in the program will have powers similar to volunteers in the traditional Guardian Ad Litem program. Pursuant to Florida statutes, they will have broad powers to investigate, report and make recommendations to judges concerning the child’s well-being.

The inspiration for the program stems from a similar effort launched in Pinellas County. After seeing the success of the program, Judges Charles E. Williams and Lee E. Haworth decided to give it a try in their district.

Attorneys participating in the program will be required to complete specialized training before taking on any cases. Judges in the family law division will identify cases where they feel require an extra set of eyes and ears to ensure the well-being of kids caught in this difficult situation.

We are eager to help the 12th circuit make this program a success. As family law and divorce attorneys, we’re keenly aware of how bitter arguments over custody and assets can be harmful to any kids involved.

To learn more about the program and our firm’s activities, check out this roundtable discussion that aired on local TV earlier this year.


More States Adopting Formal Rules for Collaborative Divorce

First introduced in 1991, the practice of collaborative divorce has grown tremendously in the last 20+ years.

A collaborative divorce can be defined as “a legal process enabling couples who have decided to separate or end their marriage to work with their lawyers and, on occasion, other family professionals in order to avoid the uncertain outcome of court and to achieve a settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties and their children without the underlying threat of contested litigation.”

Rather than going through the stress and cost of a traditional divorce, the collaborative divorce approach allows separating couples to settle the terms of their separation face-to-face, in good faith and out of court. This approach has been shown to reduce stress, especially on any children involved. It is also more private since any litigation is a matter of public record.

Since its inception over 20 years ago, the collaborative divorce option has experienced a dramatic rise in popularity.

Some states, like New Jersey, are going a step further and by mandating divorcing couples try a collaborative approach first before resorting to the traditional route of litigation.

Generally speaking, New Jersey is following the Collaborative Law Act developed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law (a.k.a. the Uniform Law Commission, or ULC). The ULC was established in 1892 and “…provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived and well-drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.”

Similar laws related to collaborative divorce have been enacted in:

  • Alabama
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington

Although other states do not have formal statutes related to collaborative divorce, there are procedures developed by local courts and legal organizations to facilitate this process. It’s estimated over 22,000 attorneys in the U.S. and across the world has received training in this form of alternative dispute resolution.

A collaborative divorce bill, SB 1190, was filed in the Florida Senate in 2014. Although the upper-chamber passed the bill unanimously, the Florida House was unable to act on it before the conclusion of the session.

According to an analysis and fiscal impact statement for the bill, collaborative divorce is a much faster option and much less expensive. A study by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals evaluating 933 cases found that 80% of all collaborative divorces are settled within a year, and 86% of the cases ended with a formal agreement and no court.

While a collaborative divorce is a good option for separating couples who feel they can amicably negotiate a settlement, it is generally not recommended in cases of domestic violence, substance abuse or severe mental illness.

Icard-Merrill’s exceptional team of Florida divorce attorneys and mediation experts strongly support the idea of collaborative divorce, or any case where two disputing parties can come together and hammer out an agreement.

If you’re considering divorce, this collaborative approach has been shown to cost less, and more importantly, minimize stress in an already stressful situation.

Ray Rice and Domestic Violence - A Timeline

The recent media coverage of National Football League (“NFL”) player Ray Rice, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, has placed a spotlight on domestic violence in American society. The saga of the pro star has gripped the nation and brought back memories of past celebrities and sports stars accused of domestic violence.

Continue reading for a brief timeline of events surrounding the case of Ray Rice, which is current as of this writing. We’ll provide updates as the case progresses and more information becomes available.

  • February 15, 2014 – both Ray Rice and his then-fiancée, Janay Parlmer, are arrested by New Jersey police in Atlantic City and charged with simple battery.
  • February 19, 2014 – TMZ releases a video of Rice dragging Palmer’s unconscious body from the hotel elevator car into the public reception area of that same hotel.
  • March 5, 2014 – at a news conference, the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh, discloses that Rice and Palmer will be attending a couples seminar.
  • March 27, 2014 – Rice is indicted by a grand jury on a charge of third-degree aggravated assault; the charge against Palmer is dropped.
  • March 28, 2014 – Rice and Palmer are married; the wedding was reportedly planned for summer 2014, but was moved up without a public explanation.
  • April 22, 2014 – Rice participates in offseason workouts with the Baltimore Ravens.
  • May 1, 2014 – Rice pleads not guilty to the charge of aggravated assault in the third-degree and applies for a pre-trial intervention program.
  • May 20, 2014 – Rice’s application for the pre-trial intervention program is accepted; the charge of aggravated assault in the third-degree will be dropped if he successfully completes the year-long program.
  • June 16, 2014 – during the NFL’s investigation into the February 15 incident, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell meets with both Rice and Palmer in New York City.
  • July 27, 2014 – the NFL announces a two-game suspension for Rice, starting on August 30, 2014. The general manager for the Baltimore Ravens, Ozzie Newsome, labels the suspension “significant” but “fair.”
  • August 28, 2014 – due to heavy criticism from the media and public, the NFL puts into place more severe punishments for domestic violence incidents, namely an eight-game suspension for first offenders and a lifetime ban from the NFL for repeat offenders.
  • September 8, 2014 – TMZ releases additional footage from the February 15 incident taken from inside the elevator car.  The security camera footage shows Rice striking Palmer in the face and knocking her unconscious.  Hours after the video’s release, the Baltimore Ravens cut Rice from the team and Commissioner Goodell announces that Rice is suspended indefinitely from the league. The NFL, in particular Commissioner Goodell, states that no one in the NFL had seen the second video before TMZ released it to the public.
  • September 9, 2014 – Palmer issues a public statement calling the situation a “nightmare.”
  • September 10, 2014 – a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation, informs the Associated Press that the second video was sent to the NFL in April 2014.  In the law enforcement official’s interview, a voicemail recording from an official NFL office phone number was disclosed which confirmed the arrival of the video to the NFL’s offices and an un-named NFL employee stating that the video was “terrible.”
  • September 11, 2014 – the NFL announces that an independent investigation into the NFL’s handling of the situation will be conducted by the former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mueller III.

More information on the process of seeking an injunction against domestic violence in Florida is available here.

If you’ve been victimized by domestic violence, get help immediately, be it through friends and family, or organizations like the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And to discuss your individual situation from a legal perspective, contact domestic violence attorneys at Sarasota’s Icard-Merrill today.