Florida Family Law Mediation
While the attorneys of Sessums Black Caballero Ficarrotta are experienced litigators, they are also experienced in resolving Florida family law matters amicably.
One strategy to assist clients in reaching an amicable resolution of their Florida family law issues is through the use of mediation. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions regarding Florida family law mediation:
What is Family Law Mediation?
Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution. It is a way that parties can possibly resolve their disputes without having a judge decide for them.
In a traditional mediation setting, an impartial and neutral professional, the mediator, will facilitate a dialogue between the parties and their counsel in the hopes of assisting the parties in reaching a settlement.
Is Mediation the Same as Collaborative Divorce?
No. Mediation and Collaborative Divorce are both alternative dispute resolution processes – ways that parties can resolve their disputes without having a judge decide for them – however that is where the commonalities end. To read more about Collaborative Divorce, click HERE.
Who Attends Mediation?
Normally, mediation participants include the parties, their attorneys, and the mediator. Sometimes another professional will attend the mediation such as a party’s forensic accountant, a Guardian ad Litem, or an interpreter. If you wish to bring someone with you to mediation, you should speak with a qualified Florida Family Law attorney before mediation to ensure that person’s attendance is appropriate.
What is the Role of the Mediator?
The mediator is impartial and neutral. Impartial means that the mediator does not favor one party over the others. Neutral means that the mediator does not have any stake in the outcome of the case. The mediator is not a decision maker and cannot force a party to agree to anything.
The mediator’s primary role is to safeguard the mediation process. Mediators conduct the mediation sessions in an even-handed, balanced manner. Mediators are responsible to promote mutual respect among the mediation participants throughout the mediation process and encourage mediation participants to conduct themselves in a reasonable, non-coercive, and non-adversarial manner.
How is the Mediator Selected?
All court circuits in Florida have a Mediation & Diversion program where they offer 2 or 3 hour mediation at the court with a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator who works for or contracts with that court circuit. A judge can order parties to attend mediation through the circuit’s Mediation & Diversion program.
Parties can also choose to attend mediation outside of the circuit’s Mediation & Diversion program with a private mediator. If parties choose to use a private mediator, it is up to the parties and their attorneys to select the mediator. Some circuits require a court order of referral to the private mediator, others do not. You should speak with your attorney about any mediation requirements for your particular case.
When does Mediation Occur?
It depends on the case. Some parties engage in what is called “pre-suit mediation” meaning that no case has been filed yet with the court and they are attempting to resolve their differences before someone files. Sometimes mediation is held part-way through the case to attempt to resolve the issues early on or on a temporary basis. Sometimes mediation is held immediately prior to a final hearing (trial) in an effort to resolve the issues before a judge decides. Occasionally, mediation can be held after entry of a final judgment.
You should speak with a qualified Florida family law attorney to decide when and how mediation can best be used in your case.
What Issues can be Mediated?
Just about any issue can be mediated including, but not limited to, parenting issues, equitable distribution (dividing up assets and liabilities between spouses), alimony or spousal support, child support, children’s expenses, attorney’s fees and costs, modification actions, enforcement issues, validity of agreements, name changes, and more.
Is Mediation Required?
Normally, yes. Many circuits in Florida, including Hillsborough County, require the parties to attend mediation before a temporary relief hearing can be held. Also, most judges will require parties to attend mediation before a final hearing (trial). The presiding judge has the ability to waive a mediation requirement but judges are often reluctant to waive a mediation requirement except in special or unusual circumstances. For example, a judge cannot refer a case to mediation if the judge finds that there has been a history of domestic violence that would compromise the mediation process.
What are the Advantages to Attending Mediation?
Generally speaking, reaching a settlement at mediation is faster and less costly than litigating the case and having a judge decide. Also, parties typically have more control over the outcome reached in mediation than if a judge were to decide.
Is Mediation Confidential?
Under Section 44.405, Florida Statutes, all mediation communications are confidential. Mediation participants are prohibited from disclosing a mediation communication to a person other than another mediation participant or the participant’s counsel.
A party to a mediation also has a privilege to refuse to testify and prevent any other person from testifying in a subsequent proceeding regarding a mediation communication.
There are some exceptions to mediation confidentiality and privilege. Exceptions include: A written agreement resulting from mediation is not privileged or confidential. Also, mediation confidentiality and privilege do not apply to ongoing criminal activities nor do they prevent the mandatory reporting of child abuse, child abandonment, child neglect, or elder abuse.
Is Mediation Binding on the Parties?
There is no requirement that the parties reach a settlement at mediation; however, they certainly can. If a settlement is reached at mediation – whether it be a complete settlement, partial settlement, or temporary settlement – it will be reduced to writing which all parties will sign. That signed agreement will be binding on the parties.
What Happens if I Don’t Reach an Agreement at Mediation?
A mediation can result in parties reaching agreements that completely resolve all their issues, partially resolve some of their issues, or temporarily resolve issues. A mediation may also result in no agreement reached by the parties.
If no agreement is reached or only a partial or temporary agreement is reached, another mediation may be set, or the remaining issues may need to be submitted to the judge to decide at a hearing.
What Happens if I do Reach an Agreement at Mediation?
If the parties reach a complete, partial, or temporary agreement at mediation, then the agreement will be written up for the parties and their counsel to review and, once final, for the parties to sign. That agreement can then be presented to the judge presiding over the case so that a court order based on the agreement can be entered.
What Preparations are Needed for Mediation?
The attorneys at Sessums Black Caballero Ficarrotta meet with their clients early on to discuss what information and documentation is needed before an informed decision regarding settlement can be made. Once that is decided, the client will obtain the information and documentation he/she can and give it to his/her attorney and the attorney may issue discovery requests to obtain the remaining information and documentation from the other party or third parties.
The gathering of information and documentation may include holding depositions, issuing requests for production, issuing interrogatories (questions that the other party must answer under oath), issuing requests for admissions, having real property appraised, interviewing witnesses, and obtaining copies of records from various sources (banks, schools, psychologists, etc.).
Prior to mediation occurring, the attorneys at Sessums Black Caballero Ficarrotta will meet with their clients to discuss the issues to be resolved, what documents and information is available regarding each of the issues, and possible outcomes in court. Oftentimes, the attorney will prepare a confidential case summary to give to the mediator to orient the mediator to the facts and issues of the case prior to mediation.
What if I Have More Questions?
You should speak with a qualified Florida family law attorney if you have more questions about mediation, other alternative dispute resolution processes, Florida family law, or your particular case.