The Role of Mediation in a Florida Divorce

April 9, 2015

Many people believe that getting divorced means spending lots of time in court. But actually, even in contentious divorces, most couples are able to settle disagreements and make compromises through the use of mediation.

The Mediation Process

Mediation is the process in which the parties consult with a neutral third party, the mediator, to attempt to resolve differences and reach an agreement. In divorce cases, spouses going through mediation may discuss a wide variety of topics, including the division of property, alimony, child support, child custody, and parenting plans.

Divorcing spouses should always prepare for mediation as they would for trial. During mediation, the spouses, along with their attorneys, will usually sit in separate rooms. The mediator will then go between the rooms and communicate with both parties. The spouses and their attorneys may also meet together. The mediator is required to remain neutral, and cannot force either party to agree with any proposed terms. All communications made during mediation are confidential.

If they come to an agreement during mediation, both parties then sign a settlement agreement prepared by the mediator. They present that agreement to the judge, who then enters a judgment in accordance with the agreement, making the agreement legally enforceable.

Either spouse may request mediation, or the court may order the spouses to engage in mediation. In most cases, couples divorcing in Florida will be required to attempt mediation. The judge may waive this requirement, but waiver usually requires unusual circumstances.

It is preferable that the parties agree on a mediator to use in their case, but if they cannot agree, a mediator will be appointed. Mediators are usually certified by the Florida Supreme Court. But if the parties and the judge agree that a mediator who is not certified is nonetheless qualified, they may use an uncertified mediator.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Mediation is nearly always useful in a divorce case. However, it may not be effective if one party is very stubborn. Also, a court may not order mediation if there is a history of domestic violence that would compromise the mediation process.

The mediation process has many benefits. It is quicker than litigation, both sides have input into the final decision, which will likely lead to greater satisfaction with the result, and it is generally less expensive than litigation. However, it is possible that one party may feel that he or she would have gotten a better deal in court.

Cost

The court may only refer parties to a mediation program that charges a fee if the parties have sufficient funds to pay for mediation. If the mediator is from the circuit court’s mediation program, the fees are set by statute and vary depending on the parties’ incomes. Otherwise, either there will be a written agreement stating compensation, or the judge will set an hourly rate. The court will apportion the cost of mediation between the parties.

A divorce means a lot of decision-making and stress, but the process of mediation can significantly ease that burden. Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.