If you are involved in a contested divorce in Hillsborough County or other Florida jurisdictions, you will be required to attend mediation prior to judge hearing your case, unless there is a substantiated emergency. Outside of emergencies, the Florida Rules of Family Law Procedure require both parties to go to mediation before either temporary relief or a final trial can be ordered. This process is more informal than a jury trial and encourages parties to come to an agreement before relinquishing these issues to a judge’s discretion.
What is the Process?
Mediation is where both parties attempt to reach an agreement with a neutral third party, a mediator, coordinating the negotiation. The mediator is a neutral third party that has been pre-approved by the court.
It is important to note that a mediator is not a judge. They do not have the authority to impose a solution or demand enforcement of any issues agreed upon by the parties. Mediators are there to facilitate an agreement, not to impose any final decision. During the session, each party is allowed to communicate privately with his or her attorney. Mediation can be limited to one day, or it can last for several sessions.
The session will likely begin with an introduction to the process by the mediator. After introductions, the mediator will help determine what issues need to be resolved and organize them according to priority. Then, each party and his or her attorney will go into separate rooms and the mediator will split time between the parties as is needed to negotiate terms and agreements.
What are the Benefits?
Mediation can have a substantial cost savings and the proceedings are confidential, unless stated otherwise. The mediation process also allows the parties more autonomy over the outcome of their case than they would otherwise have if the case were to proceed to trial. For example, if each party comes to an agreement over their contested issues, such as alimony or child custody, then those issues can be codified into an agreement between the parties. If the case is not resolved in mediation, then the determination of the ultimate issues would be in the hands of a judge or jury.
Outside of the possibly expedited cost and time savings, mediation can also serve to help the parties communicate in the future. By coming to an agreement, and compromising on contested issues, the parties’ future relationship will benefit. This is especially important if there will be a continuing relationship between the parties.
What Happens If Both Parties Agree or Disagree?
If both parties disagree, the mediator will report this disagreement to the judge. This report may contain outstanding issues between the parties, so long as the parties consent to that disclosure.
If both parties come to an agreement on the contested issues, then the mediator will prepare a written settlement agreement to be signed by both parties. This agreement will then be presented to the judge on the case so that a final judgment, the final divorce order, will mirror the terms stated in the settlement agreement.
Contact a Tampa Attorney
It is important to prepare thoroughly for mediation. This should include a meeting with your attorney to discuss what to expect and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case. For answers to your questions about resolving your divorce or other family law issues in mediation, contact the Tampa family and divorce lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+