Over 2 million U.S. Troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Among those service members, there are over 3 million military families. Approximately 43% of those families have children and approximately 42% have children between the ages of 0 and 5. Florida has the third largest population of veterans. Family Law is the number one legal issue as seen in VPBP. A service members’ training combined with longer, repetitive periods of deployment have a detrimental impact on military families. More than 320,000 veterans have Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and more than 300,000 veterans suffer from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). VPBP aims to provide legal services in family law to veterans and their families, but the traditional litigation process is not suitable for military families. Unlike traditional litigation, Collaborative Family Law can uniquely address military specific issues in a more efficient and effective manner. For instance, the role of the mental health professional can address the unique issues military families face when service members return from military service, i.e., TBI, PTS, trauma triggers, ambiguous loss, caregiving, renegotiated roles, child behavior problems stemming from military service, etc. In this regard, it is our intention to facilitate the preservation and restructuring of family relationships such that these families can move forward and live more successful lives. The role of the financial professional can address the unique military benefits that arise in equitable distribution, i.e. military retirement benefits, V.A. benefits, and other benefits provided by either the military or Department of Veteran’s Affairs (federal or state). The role of attorneys specifically trained in both military and civil law can address any military specific, legal issues that arise in family law. We have successfully completed two pilot cases so far, and have new cases coming in. We are told that we are “changing the future for these families.”
Our program (now in its second year) is a Collaborative Family Law Clinic for Veterans and their families. Our services provide pro bono to eligible, low, and modest income veterans and their families through a collaborative partnership between Nova Southeastern University’s Department of Family Therapy, The Family Network/Dr. Randy Heller, MISSION UNITED at Legal Aid Service of Broward County, and The Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida. A manual containing the protocols and processes for the Collaborative Family Law Clinic for Veterans has already been developed and approved by MISSION UNITED in conjunction with Dr. Heller, an experienced Collaborative Mental Health Professional. We have successfully completed two pilot cases so far, and have new cases coming in. Client Experience Surveys are depicting that we are “changing the future for these families.”
The Collaborative cases are being conducted at The Family Network, which is a practicum site for the Department of Family Therapy of Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida. The Mental Health Professionals will be Marriage and Family Therapy master’s and doctoral students, supervised by Dr. Randy Heller, (AAMFT Fellow and clinical supervisor) and enrolled in the department. The students have completed a semester graduate course in Collaborative Divorce developed and taught by Dr. Heller. The legal professionals are volunteer attorneys from both the MISSION UNITED Veterans Pro Bono Project at Legal Aid Service of Broward County (VPBP) and the Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida. The financial professionals are from The Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida. All professionals working on the teams have completed a 2-day basic and 1- day advanced training Collaborative training which was facilitated by the Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers and hosted by the Department of family Therapy at Nova Southeastern University, this past January 6-8th, 2017. The 3rd day advanced training was facilitated by experienced and well known professionals in their disciplines, providing voluntary services that day speaking about topics such as Understanding the Dynamics of Family Systems, Working with High Conflict Couples, Screening for DV and Suicide Prevention, Emotional Regulation and Professional Self-Care. Over seventy Collaborative professionals were trained, and over 15 became new members of the Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida.
Many professionals attending the training will be providing collaborative divorce services pro bono to veterans and their families in conjunction with the graduate students. This training raised awareness and developed enthusiasm for Collaborative Practice within the professional community, which will spread public awareness, and raised over $2,000.00 for the Pro Bono project. All of the proceeds from the training went to the project due in part to a $3,000.00 grant received by the IACP, the generosity of the Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Collaborative professionals.
This is a phenomenal community collaboration! We are training professionals, educating the public, and most importantly, helping Veteran families go through the divorce process in an amicable way!