Given the emotional, financial and legal upheaval divorce creates for most couples, it is easy to understand why divorcing spouses have trouble seeing issues eye-to-eye. Typically, a person’s entire world changes in the wake of divorce, and seeing the other spouse as the source of this conflict certainly makes it challenging to find places of agreement. However, there are circumstances where it may be preferable to find areas of commonality and to work together toward resolution with minimum amounts of dispute to keep the relationship as intact as possible. This need for cooperation is often seen in divorce cases involving children or spouses that own and operate a business they wish to maintain with minimal disruption. Taking a divorce case through the traditional court process is, by its nature, a combative procedure. Each spouse takes a position on each issue, there is little collaboration, and a third party, in the form of a judge, is the ultimate decision-maker. There is another option that allows divorcing spouses to work together toward resolving issues in a more congenial manner – mediation. An overview of how this process works, and when courts require parties to a divorce to enter into it, will follow below.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is a non-adversarial process where parties in a dispute discuss areas of disagreement in the presence of a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party that attempts to help the parties better communicate, which makes it more likely they will be able to resolve their issues. Even though judges are not involved in the process, lawyers can still attend mediation sessions with their clients to help them make informed decisions with an eye toward the legal consequences. An advantage of mediation over litigation is that this process is private and confidential, and records of the parties’ agreement are not open to the public. In traditional divorce cases, unless a judge makes the unusual decision to seal the records, all the documents filed with the court are public records. Further, mediation is faster and less expensive, and the parties have complete control over the outcome. Note that this process is voluntary, and either party can withdraw at any point and for any reason. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, they still have the option of proceeding with the divorce case in court.
When Is It Required?
Some mediation is required under court order, and the parties must make a good faith effort to resolve their disputes in this forum before returning to the judge for resolution. In family law matters, courts will order the parties to undergo mediation if the following issues are under dispute:
- parental responsibility;
- which parent should provide the primary residence for the child;
- access to a child;
- visitation; or
- child support.
If the parties are able to agree, the terms of the agreement are formally documented by the mediator in a consent order that is submitted to the parties and their attorneys for review. If the parties approve the consent order, it is then given to the judge for final approval, and once granted, the consent order is enforceable to the same extent as a regular court order.
Talk to a Divorce Attorney
If you are facing divorce and want to know your options for resolving disputes outside of court, talk to a divorce attorney who can advise of the different options available, which extend beyond just mediation. The Tampa Bay law firm of All Family Law Group, P.A. works with divorcing clients in all stages of the process, and in forums outside of court. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family 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+