What to Expect in Florida Family Law Mediation
Florida law provides married couples with two different options for dissolving their marriages through divorce:
- Uncontested divorce
- Contested divorce
The first option involves limited court interaction, but the second revolves around court intervention. While Florida family court judges make the final decisions in contested divorce proceedings, divorce law requires couples in contested divorces to undergo mandatory mediation to try and resolve outstanding issues. Additionally, negotiations in uncontested divorces may hit roadblocks that may necessitate resolution attempts through private mediation. If this fails, an uncontested divorce typically becomes a contested divorce that the court will resolve.
This means that excepting simple dissolution cases, mediation—whether private or court-ordered—is a common component of divorce proceedings. But what is mediation, and what does it entail in divorce proceedings?
With extensive experience representing Tallahassee area clients in their divorces, the family law lawyers at Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law know a thing or two about mediation. Read on to learn how mediation works and how it might be used in your divorce.
Mediation Basics in Florida Divorce Law
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that helps parties resolve disputes through an interactive negotiation process that seeks a middle-ground solution. Mediation is conducted by a court-certified, neutral, third-party mediator, whose role is to keep the parties focused on the mediation process, clearly delineate areas of disagreement, and help uncover ways to overcome areas of dispute.
Mediation is required in Florida contested divorces because they have proven effective in resolving outstanding issues that complicate the divorce process. They also help speed up divorce proceedings and free up valuable courtroom time.
When disagreements arise during uncontested divorces, divorce lawyers generally recommend that their clients try to resolve outstanding issues through private mediation before turning the process over to the court as a contested divorce.
While mediation is generally mandatory for those undergoing a contested divorce in Florida, judges can forgo the requirement in divorce cases that involve domestic violence, emotional abuse, or a spouse’s criminal activity. Mediation can also be used to help resolve post-divorce-related issues, such as requested changes to child support and/or parenting plans.
Court-Ordered Versus Private Mediation
Mediation is available to all contested and uncontested divorce parties through court-based or private mediators, both of which must be court-certified. Divorcing couples whose combined income exceeds $100,000 must hire a private mediator, even if the mediation is court-ordered. Court-based mediators are available to all divorcing couples with combined incomes below $100,000. While private mediators are more expensive than court-based ones, they generally have more flexibility to schedule timely mediation sessions. Court-based mediators are constrained by court scheduling and may take two to four months to schedule a mediation.
What Happens During the Mediation Process?
A typical divorce mediation begins with an introduction from the mediator, who describes their qualifications, the mediation process, and their role in it. Each party is allowed to present their respective positions about the outstanding issues and how they would like to see them resolved, after which the mediator begins negotiations. Mediators typically steer negotiations on a back-and-forth, give-and-take track to move the parties to a workable middle ground. The proverbial ace in the mediator’s sleeve is that the parties will know the outcome of a mediated settlement, whereas the outcome will be left uncertain if left up to the judge.
If the parties come to an agreement on all unresolved issues during mediation, the mediator will have them sign the appropriate settlement paperwork, which will be reviewed and approved by a judge during a brief hearing. If the mediation does not result in an agreement, the divorce will proceed in the courtroom during trial.
Mediation may also result in the settlement of some outstanding issues, which can be accepted by the judge, who will resolve the remaining issues during trial. If the parties settle their differences after a failed mediation but before trial, the agreement can be submitted to the court to try and forestall the need for trial.
Both parties are allowed to have their lawyers present during mediation. A divorce lawyer plays an advisory role in mediation negotiations to ensure their client’s rights are protected, and their best interests are served.
Mediations are confidential, and nothing discussed during them can be raised at trial or otherwise be released to the public (except under exceptional circumstances).
Turn to an Experienced Tallahassee Divorce Lawyer
Divorce is among the most stressful experiences a person may endure, with potential life-changing outcomes that can impact one’s future financial and emotional position. In many cases, mediation can relieve some of the stress and result in negotiated settlements agreeable to both parties. Cowhey + Ward’s Adam Cowhey has earned a solid reputation in the Tallahassee area for successfully steering clients through mediation and securing favorable outcomes through negotiations or in divorce court. To secure a positive resolution for your family law matters, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.