A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF FLORIDA FAMILY LAW AND DIVORCE MEDIATION
Mediation is one of the most important, if the not most important step in the Florida divorce process. Why? The majority of contested cases end in mediation. In North Florida, courts will order the parties to mediation before they may proceed to trial. In my experience as a divorce attorney practicing in Jacksonville, Florida, 80% to 90% cases are resolved in mediation.
The Family Law Mediation Process
Mediation customarily occurs at a divorce mediator’s office. Typically a divorce mediator is an experienced family law attorney who has practiced family law for a number of years and devotes all or part of his or her practice to mediation. In my opinion, it is critical that the mediator has practiced family law in the past because he or she must be able discuss likely outcomes if the case were to proceed to trial. If the mediator does not know the law and judges, then it will be difficult to discuss possible outcomes.
Mediation normally begins with both parties and their attorneys (if applicable) meeting in a central conference room with both parties stating their respective positions. After the introductory meeting, the parties are separated into separate private conference rooms. Once the parties are separated, the mediator will meet with each party to get his or her side of the story. The mediator will also ask what information they may share with the other party and what information they wish to remain confidential.
After the mediator obtains the facts and positions from the parties, he or she will take offers back and forth between the separate conference rooms. If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator will draft a consent final judgment usually with input from the parties’ attorneys resolving all the issues on the case. The consent final judgment is the document that resolves all issues in the case and is usually approved by the parties’ judge.
It is important to keep an open mind in the mediation process. There is a time to take things to trial in a divorce case, particularly if the opposing party is making unfair demands, but in most cases it will end up costing thousands of additional dollars in attorney’s fees. In a divorce it is understandable, and common, to be upset with the other party; however, mediation is the time to set aside prejudices and resolve your case based on the law and the facts. A good mediator and family law attorney will provide a realistic view of how your case will go at trial. The question is: do you want to pay thousands more to litigate or resolve your case relatively early in the process?
To effectively mediate a case, you should have complete information regarding the marital assets and liabilities. Unfortunately, it is common for one spouse to conceal assets from the other party. Before you come to mediation, you must do your due diligence to ensure all the cards are on the table. For example, if one spouse has a pension, do you know how much it is worth?
A good family law attorney will know how to obtain the information you need. If the other party is unwilling to turn over important financial information, an attorney can issue a subpoena or file a motion to compel discovery.
One you have gathered all of the information about your case, the next step is to organize the information. If you understand all of the issues in the case, you will be better prepared to mediate. Preparation is critical because mediation often ends in settlement. If you make a deal and miss an important fact or issue, it is going to be difficult to change the terms of a mediated agreement in the future. Getting it right at mediation will save you money and provide peace of mind in the future.
Only Accept Fair Offers
It is in your best interest to accept fair and reasonable offers. That is one of the best reasons to have an attorney. A mediator’s role is to facilitate the process, not look out for your best interests. Your attorney will assist you with determining whether a settlement proposal is reasonable.
If a final settlement proposal is unreasonable, after extensive negotiation, it is time to walk. In many cases, I have seen an opposing party who maintained an unreasonable settlement position at mediation resolve the case immediately before trial.
Contact The Taylor Law Office
If you have questions about family law mediation in the Jacksonville, Florida area, please contact us at 904-339-5298 or through this website. Your first consultation is free.