How the “Sieve Model” Sifts Out Court Battles

By Laura Melton Tucker, May 5th, 2009

In the 2009 Spring issue of the ACR Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Robert Silver and Deborah Coe Silver write about a new program in the 20th Judicial Circuit of the State of Florida called “The Sieve Model.*” According to the article, in the state of Florida where the divorce rate is the tenth highest in the nation at 5.3 divorces per 1,000 couples (Iowa averages 3.1 divorces per 1,000**), the Hon. Hugh E. Starnes asked family law and mental health professionals to work together to develop an alternative to custody court battles.

The program works like this: When Florida couples with children begin the divorce process, their needs are “sifted through a sieve,” or filtered through a series of least to most invasive processes with the hope that disputing parents will devise their own parenting agreement once they understand the costs and emotional damage associated with going to court. The Sieve Process takes the disputing couple through a series of steps, including surveys, parent education classes, mental health coaching, mediation, reality training, etc., with each step incrementally increasing both the tactics and individualized attention directed at the disputing parties. The parents may opt out of the program at any point by devising their own parenting plan.

The last stages in the process are particularly costly and emotionally trying for all involved, especially the children. For example, the third to the last step, a “focused parenting evaluation” takes up to two months, costs $1,500, and involves interviews with the children as well as other assessments to evaluate a particular issue that the couple cites as blocking an agreement. These are often cases where substance abuse is a safety concern. The final step in the process takes the couple to court for a “comprehensive custody evaluation,” a 9 month ordeal that costs $5,000 . Experts believe this phase may cause irreparable damage to the children placed in the middle of warring parents. The Sieve program exists to protect the families from this last, difficult measure when possible.

The Silvers draw several conclusions based on the early success of the Sieve Model. They find that substance abuse issues in a divorce often cause protracted conflict. One of the benefits of screening in the first stages of the process is that early substance abuse detection leads to a better outcome for the family. Similarly, when even one parent is receptive to expert guidance, there is a greater chance that the entire family will have reduced conflict. Here’s the takeaway, the success of the Sieve program demonstrates that helpful and supportive professional intervention can lead couples toward finding their own solutions. Family mediation is an important step in the Sieve Model. Rather than expend energy blaming and fighting, divorcing couples redirect their energy toward working together constructively in the best interests of their children.

*The Sieve Model: An Innovative Process for Identifying Alternatives to Custody Evaluations (p 333-348) by Robert B. Silver and Deborah Coe Silver, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Spring 2009. This article is available to ACR registered members who may log in to read it, or for purchase. click here.

**For further information about the national divorce rate click here


One Response

  • Milan Cly says:

    I am a family law attorney and learning so much from reading your website. Thanks again!

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