Mediation, as it is used in the Florida Family Courts, is an opportunity for a couple to try to agree, called a marital agreement, prior to a case being put on the court docket. The mediation is a planned meeting with each party and their attorney (s) sitting down with a Florida Supreme Court Certified Civil Mediator and, with discussion, presentation of viable, provable, concerns, and compromise solve the issues of the case in question. In Florida, most jurisdictions require mediation before a divorce (dissolution of marriage), and modification of child support, parenting plan,and or alimony can be scheduled for a court hearing. There are several important points to understand regarding a Florida mediation:
- A mediator cannot adjudicate the case. He or she is trained to facilitate discussion of issues and help the couple work toward a mutually agreeable compromise and solution of their
- Further, a mediator will make clear at the beginning of the mediation the importance of listening to each other’s point of view, being willing to compromise—neither party will get all he or she hopes for, and each party is to respect the other with no name calling, foul language, or angry outbursts being allowed. Mediators will encourage each party to consider the advantages of settling out of court and gently guide them in this direction.At some point the mediator usually will meet with each party privately as well as with the parties together, However, the final decision whether to settle during mediation is the couple’s, not the mediators.
- Each party needs to come to mediation with a positive outlook as to the possibility of a settlement. There are a number of reasons an out of court settlement is beneficial to each person. These benefits include
- Cost is much less than going to court, both from the standpoint of court costs and attorney fees. Each party pays half of what is hundreds of dollars rather than thousands.
- Proceedings are not public information as are court hearings
- Time for final judgment is considerably shorter as Florida Family Courts are backed up with cases for months. With a settlement from a mediation the judge merely has to look it over to be sure all is as it should be and then he or she will sign the final document.
- The couple decides for themselves “who gets what” and “who pays for what” when it comes to marital assets and debts. Florida is an equitable distribution, not equal distribution, state. And, while a judge tries to be fair, it is his or her judgment,not the couple’s desires that make the final decisions when a case goes to court.
- If minor children are involved, parents know far better than a judge what their children need and want. And, while in Florida the courts follow the directive “in the best interests of the child” a judge does not know the child personally as parents do.
- Be sure each party and their attorney are prepared with clear, hoped for outcomes, and any necessary proof needed for their claims before mediation is set. It is important when choosing an attorney that the attorney in question supports and encourages a successful mediation. An attorney who prefers to take a case all the way to court can sabotage a mediation by suggesting a client not compromise or settle when possible.
- Set priorities as to what conditions or assets you must have versus those you would be willing to compromise on. Sometimes even the “must haves” can be used as a bargaining tool.
- Make sure the final settlement document is properly signed by each party, witnessed, and notarized.
Mediation in the Florida Family Court is a wonderful tool to help couples solve their problems regarding marriage and minor children in a sensible and affordable manner. If each party will listen, consider each point of view, and be willing to compromise the future of all involved will be much better than if a judge must decide it all at a much greater cost, taking a much greater time for the final judgment.