Family Law Mediation

What is family law mediation?

In family law cases, almost one hundred percent (100%) of cases are referred to mediation. Mediators are third party neutrals who are certified by the State of Florida in dispute resolution. Mediators are typically lawyers, counselors, psychologists and other professionals who have attended courses and receive continuing education to acquire and maintain their skills.

The role of the mediator in a Divorce or Dissolution of Marriage action is to meet with all of the parties and try to assist the parties in resolving some or all of the issues by agreement rather than through the courts. Mediation is highly effective in family law cases. At mediation, the parties are first advised that the matters discussed in mediation are “confidential.” There are a few limited exceptions to the confidentiality of mediation such as new/unreported allegations of child abuse and elder abuse. By and large, what is discussed in mediation remains confidential and not subject to disclosure. The mediator cannot be called to court to testify to anything said in the course of mediation. The parties cannot later testify to the details of the communications made in mediation. This confidentiality allows the parties the freedom to make offers of settlement and proposals that they might otherwise be afraid to make for fear that they might be brought up later in court or used against them later in court.

However, if the parties come to an agreement then they must reduce the agreement to writing in the form of a “Mediation Agreement” and they must read and sign the agreement freely and voluntarily. The Mediator and the attorneys for the parties, if any, also sign the Mediation Agreement and it is submitted to the Court for approval. When the Mediator submits the agreement to the Court, he or she does not report anything else that may have happened or been discussed at the mediation. The Court only receives the written agreement and the Mediator and parties are still restricted from revealing the details of the mediation under the confidentiality rules. So, if the parties only reach a written agreement as to some of the issues, often referred to as a “Partial Mediation Agreement” only the partial written agreement is submitted to the Court and the Mediator will report only that the parties did not reach an agreement as to the remainder (referred to as an “impasse”).

Often parties in family law cases are reticent to attend mediation and believe that it will accomplish nothing. Irrespective of the fact that most family law cases will be referred to mediation anyway, it is important to attend mediation with an open mind and willingness to consider offers. Often parties arrive at solutions that they never considered before attending mediation. Also, and most importantly, mediation allows the parties themselves to make decisions rather than allowing a Judge or Hearing Officer to make decisions and Order compliance.