In the 1980s, the state of Florida implemented mandatory family mediation–a form of alternative dispute resolution—for divorcing couples. Both parties are required to participate in and attempt mediation before going in front of a judge for help.
What Is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation, commonly referred to as “family mediation” in Florida, is the process of addressing and resolving divorce issues with the assistance of an unbiased mediator. Therefore, if the spouses cannot agree on one or more divorce-related issues, this is a mandatory step to be completed before a judge will sign off on a divorce in Florida. During mediation, the mediator (a specially trained, neutral professional) meets with both spouses to help them come up with solutions relating to their divorce.
Topics discussed in mediation include:
- Child custody
- Parenting schedules
- Child support
- The division of marital property and debts
- The distribution of inherited property
- Elder care
- Business succession
Mediation is an out-of-court negotiation for parties at any stage in the process of splitting up, including before, during, and after divorce. This strategy is designed to aid in ensuring a smooth transition with marital assets and protecting the well-being of any children involved. Additionally, mediation can help divorcing parties avoid a drawn-out litigation process.
The Responsibilities of a Family Mediator
The mediator is not responsible for making decisions for the spouses but for assisting both parties as they discuss divorce disputes. Rather, he/she is tasked to help the couple reach mutually acceptable resolutions. The mediator helps both parties stay on track, clarifies disagreements and agreements, and guides divorcing couples in coming up with solutions. This individual is to remain completely impartial throughout the mediation process and may not provide legal advice or counseling to either party.
Who Selects the Mediator?
After a judge orders a divorcing couple to mediate legal disputes about family issues, they have approximately two weeks to select a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator. In some cases, a judge might automatically assign a mediator for a divorcing couple. If both parties are given the opportunity to select a mediator and fail to do so in the allotted time, the judge will appoint one for them.
When selecting a certified mediator, it is recommended that both parties look into their background, experience, and training. Both parties must agree on the selected mediator; if they cannot agree, they will receive a court-appointed mediator.
Click here to see the Dispute Resolution Center Mediator Reporting System. All mediators found in this database have been certified by the Florida Supreme Court.
Is Mediation Preferable to Litigation?
Mediation is often preferable to litigation as it can save both parties a lot of time, energy, and money. It gives divorcing couples a chance to resolve their disputes by themselves as opposed to a judge providing solutions for them. Mediation can help divorcing couples achieve resolutions that benefit both parties while litigation often leaves at least one party feeling like they have lost. This process is often much more affordable, private, and efficient than divorce litigation proceedings.
Additional benefits of mediation include:
- Freedom and independence to come up with solutions
- An opportunity to air and work through grievances and disagreements
- A chance to reduce trauma for children involved in divorce disputes
- Assistance with overcoming obstacles in communication
- Agreements reached in mediation are enforceable
- All discussions in mediation are confidential
Divorce Mediation in Cases Involving Domestic Violence
There are some cases in which a judge will determine that divorce mediation is not appropriate, specifically cases involving domestic violence or emotional abuse. In these situations, the case will likely proceed to trial.
Should I Get a Lawyer for My Divorce Mediation?
You are not required to hire your own legal representation during a mediation case, but it can be helpful. Mediators are not allowed to provide any legal advice or guidance, so having a lawyer on your side can make all of the difference in the results of your mediation. An attorney can ensure your rights and best interests are protected during every step of the mediation process.
Hiring a lawyer for mediation is beneficial because they can:
- Provide legal advice and guidance
- Help you understand each dispute in your case
- Answer all legal questions
- Go over all your information and help you to stay organized
- Help you prepare for mediation
Consulting with a lawyer before your mediation or even bringing them to the mediation with you can ease the burden you are facing at this time.
What Happens If Mediation Is Not Successful?
During mediation, you are not legally obligated to agree on any or all matters discussed. If both parties only reach a partial agreement or cannot agree on anything during mediation, the case will proceed to a divorce trial. During the divorce trial, the judge will make decisions for the divorcing couple about any disputes that were left unresolved after mediation. It is possible for both parties to come to an agreement after mediation but before the trial takes place. In this case, both parties should contact the court to determine their next steps.
What Happens If Mediation Is Successful?
In Florida, mediations that result in full settlements must be filed with the court and at least one party must be present before the judge at a short court hearing. During this hearing, the judge will review the settlement agreement and approve of said agreement if everything seems reasonable, the parenting plan protects the best interests of the children, and everything else is in order.
How Long Does It Take for a Divorce to Be Finalized with Mediation?
Divorce in Florida can take anywhere from one month to several years. How long it takes for your divorce to be finalized with mediation depends on different factors, including the court’s backlog, the severity of the disputes at hand, the number of parties involved in the disputes, and the level of contention involved in your case.
Below is a general breakdown of the timeline for divorce in Florida:
- Uncontested divorce: 0-3 months
- Divorce with mediation: 0-6 months
- Divorce with trial: 0-12 months
Mediation After Divorce
Divorced individuals, particularly those who are co-parenting, may choose to participate in mediation following their divorce. Post-divorce mediation can be useful in solving issues such as custody disputes, relocation disputes, child support disputes, and more.
Call The Virga Law Firm, P.A.
Searching for a certified family mediator in Florida? At The Virga Law Firm, P.A., our divorce mediation attorneys have proven effective at negotiating family law disputes both in and outside of the courtroom. We understand the importance of successful negotiation and mediation and know what it takes to reach suitable agreements.
Schedule a consultation with The Virga Law Firm, P.A. by calling (800) 822-5170.