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Understanding Mediation in Florida Family Law Cases

By: Jarbath Pena Law Group

Business people sitting in conference room in mediation in a family case in south florida

In the realm of family law, particularly in the context of divorce proceedings, mediation plays a significant role in resolving disputes outside of the courtroom. In fact, many feel strongly that it is in the best interest of the divorcing couple and their children for the parties to work towards an agreement—even if it means significant compromise. Why? Because if you reach an agreement, you are in control of deciding what the foreseeable future will look like for you and your family. You will help negotiate and find amicable solutions. If you cannot agree, a judge who does not know you, your kids, or your soon-to-be ex-spouse will make the decisions for you—and they will be binding. 

If you can work towards making these decisions yourselves, you are not at the mercy of the judge. Of course, in some instances where there is an extraordinarily high amount of animosity between the spouses, mediation and agreements may not be feasible. But if it is possible, it is worth pursuing. 

Today, we will delve into several frequently asked questions we encounter at the Jarbath Peña Law Group regarding what mediation entails, its mandatory nature, the role of a mediator, the process, and its possible outcomes.

What Is Mediation?

Mediation in South Florida

Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process where a neutral third party, known as a mediator, facilitates communication and negotiation between parties to help them reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Unlike a judge in a courtroom, a mediator doesn't impose decisions but rather guides discussions to assist parties in finding common ground.

Is Mediation Mandatory in Florida Divorce Cases?

In Florida, mediation is typically mandatory in divorce cases. According to Florida Statute 61.183, parties involved in contested family law matters, including divorce, are required to attend mediation before proceeding to trial. However, there are exceptions such as cases involving domestic violence or when both parties agree to waive mediation.

Where Does It Take Place and How Much Does Mediation Cost?

Mediation sessions usually take place in neutral settings such as the courthouse, mediator’s offices or conference rooms. Additionally, mediation can occur virtually, where the parties can be in completely different locations while mediation is taking place. It is not uncommon to keep the parties separated during mediation, in either separate conference rooms or in separate virtual rooms. The cost of mediation varies depending on factors like the complexity of the case and the mediator’s fees. However, in Florida, there are provisions for indigent parties to access mediation services at a reduced cost.

What Is the Mediator’s Role?

A mediator acts as a neutral facilitator, guiding discussions and promoting constructive dialogue between parties. They assist in identifying issues, exploring alternatives, and fostering understanding. Importantly, mediators do not make binding decisions; their role is to empower parties to make their own choices. Sometimes mediators are family law attorneys, however, despite their legal background, they are not there to provide legal advice to either party. Each party is entitled to have their legal counsel present to negotiate on their behalf.

What Happens in Mediation?

During mediation, parties discuss various aspects of their divorce, including division of assets, child time-sharing schedules, and alimony. The parties normally start in the same room where the facilitator explains the process and answers any questions before starting. Then, the parties may separate into different rooms, if they choose, or if the mediator or attorneys request separate spaces. This may be ideal as tensions can run high during the divorce or separation process. Whether they are in the same room or separate rooms, they dive into discussing issues and attempt the parties compromise to reach solutions.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Mediation?

While not mandatory, having legal representation during mediation is advisable, especially in complex cases. First, with an attorney by your side, your spouse and their lawyer are far less likely to strongarm you. In other words, your attorney knows how to advocate for you—even in mediation. If your spouse’s attorney makes inaccurate statements or makes an unfair demand, your attorney knows how to use the facts to guide the conversation back to your best interests. Your attorney can also take a moment and look over a proposed solution before you agree to it. They know what the likely outcome would be if you took the case to the judge, so they have a little more bargaining power in that respect. Attorneys provide valuable guidance, advocate for your interests, and ensure that any agreements reached are fair and legally sound.

Do I have to Be in the Same Room with My Spouse During Divorce Mediation?

The setup of mediation sessions varies but typically involves both parties being present in the same room with the mediator. However, arrangements can be made for separate sessions if necessary, especially in cases involving domestic violence or extreme conflict. 

What Happens If an Argument Erupts?

Conflicts and disagreements are common during mediation. Mediators are trained to manage such situations by maintaining neutrality, diffusing tensions, and refocusing discussions on productive solutions. 

If necessary, mediators may suggest taking short breaks to cool off before resuming negotiations, or they may suggest using two rooms so the parties do not have to be together. If two rooms are used, the mediator will go back and forth bringing suggestions and proposals to each party in their separate room where they can discuss the proposal with their lawyer. 

Do You Have to Reach an Agreement by the End of Mediation?

Signing documents in mediation in south florida

While the goal of mediation is to reach agreements on all issues, it is not always achievable in a single session. The parties can reach a full agreement, a partial agreement, a temporary agreement, or no agreement. If parties are unable to resolve all matters during mediation, they may opt for further sessions or proceed to litigation.

What Happens Next If You Don't Resolve Your Issues in Mediation?

If mediation does not result in agreements on all issues, the case may proceed to trial where a judge will make decisions on unresolved matters. If the parties are able to reach a partial agreement, it will limit the issues that need to be decided by a judge. Each party presents its case to the judge, and the judge makes a ruling on all outstanding issues based on the evidence presented by both parties.

What Happens If We Do Reach an Agreement on All Divorce Issues During Mediation?

People gathered signing documents in mediation in south florida

If parties reach agreements on all divorce issues during mediation, the next step involves documenting these agreements in writing. Typically, a settlement agreement is drafted outlining the terms agreed upon by both parties. Your lawyer will check the agreement before you sign it. Then, the agreement gets presented to the judge. As long as the terms are reasonable and not unlawful or against public policy, the judge usually signs off on the agreement, incorporating it into the final divorce order.

Can I Use Mediation for Other Family Law Matters?

scales of justice in front of law books in family law mediation in south florida

Yes, mediation can be used for various family law matters, including child support and custody disputes, even if the parents are not married. The goal remains the same: to facilitate constructive communication and reach mutually acceptable resolutions.

In conclusion, mediation serves as a valuable tool in Florida family law cases, particularly in divorces, offering parties an opportunity to resolve disputes amicably and efficiently outside of the courtroom. By understanding the mediation process, parties can navigate their divorce proceedings with clarity and confidence, ultimately achieving outcomes that meet their needs and interests.

Let Us Help

Fritznie Jarbath and Melisa Pena in Jarbath Pena Law Group - JP Law Group - Family and Immigration Law

The experienced family law attorneys at the Jarbath Peña Law Group understand the hurdles you face during a divorce. You are trying to hold your family together while worrying about the division of marital property and the time you may or may not end up having with your kids. You need help.We are here to handle the complex legal aspects of divorce and other family matters—like child support and custody—while you focus on your family. We will not let your spouse or their lawyer take advantage of you.

Allow us to help. You can reach us at 305-615-1005 or through our online contact form. We look forward to serving you! 

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