We are excited to announce that Melissa E. Peat is now certified as a Family Law Mediator! Coastal Legal Team is now offering family mediation services at competitive local rates. We have a large conference room and space available for all your mediation needs, or Mrs. Peat can travel to a location of your choosing. Contact us today at 321-775-3694 to schedule your Family Mediation.
What is mediation?
Whether you are thinking about divorce, issues pertaining to your mutual child, or an action for divorce, paternity or modification of a previous Final Judgment has been filed, mediation may be required in your case, but overall can be highly beneficial for all parties involved. Mediation is a way for people who are having a dispute regarding issues pertaining to your divorce and/or children to talk about their issues and concerns and to make decisions about what will happen with the help of another person (called a mediator). A mediator is not allowed to decide who is right or wrong or to tell you how to resolve your issues. In mediation, you can try to find solutions that make sense to you and the other person in the dispute to resolve some or all of your concerns.
While the goal is to try to work something out, you may decide it would be better for you not to come to an agreement. Sometimes emotions may be high and that can make talking to the person with whom you are in a dispute difficult. A mediator can assist you in easing the way for communication. The mediator is there as a neutral person to help you focus on solving your dispute; however, the mediator is prohibited from providing therapy, counseling or legal advice.
What is a mediator?
A mediator helps you talk with the party with whom you are having a dispute. The mediator does not make decisions for you. The mediator is a neutral and impartial guide to help you come up with possible solutions, stay on track, and clarify areas of agreement and disagreement. The mediator may help you and the other party see the conflict from each other side’s point of view.
To become certified by the Florida Supreme Court, a mediator must meet many requirements. There are ethical standards for mediators adopted by the Florida Supreme Court.
A mediator is not there to provide therapy, counseling, business or legal advice. While mediation is a good place to recognize the emotions that may be driving the dispute, the mediator is there as a neutral to help you focus on resolving your dispute.
What happens if I don’t come to any agreement in mediation?
Mediation is used by the courts in family proceedings and is often a requirement. When it is used by the court, it is called a “court-ordered mediation.” If you are court ordered to mediation and you are unable to settle your differences, you will go back to court and the judge will make a decision for you.
What are some advantages to mediation?
A mediator cannot tell you who is right or wrong, cannot give you legal advice and cannot tell you how your issues should be resolved. A mediator CAN, however, offer a better method of communication and ideas to assist in resolving your issues amicably.
In mediation, you are the “decision maker.” The mediator helps you discuss your concerns, but cannot make decisions for you. If your case progresses to trial before a Judge, that Judge will make the decisions for you. Understand that the Judge may only see you for one (1) day and his or her Order will dictate many important aspects of your future and possibly your children’s future.
Unlike trials and hearings, which are held in public courtrooms, mediations are private and, with a few exceptions, confidential. If your mediation is court-ordered or conducted by a certified family mediator, there are laws and rules which require confidentiality. Although not required, sometimes the mediator may ask the parties to state in writing that they will keep everything confidential. The goal is to allow you and anyone at mediation and their lawyer, if any, to talk about legal and non-legal issues without fear of others (including the judge) hearing about it. While most things said during mediation will be confidential, there are some exceptions. (Three main examples of these exceptions are child abuse, elder/vulnerable adult abuse, or anyone saying that they are committing or planning a crime. If you are interested in all the exceptions. A signed mediated settlement agreement is not confidential unless the parties agree it will be confidential and the law allows the agreement to be confidential. Instead, the agreement may – and in some cases MUST – be put in a court file.
Even if you have already tried to talk it out or negotiate with the other party, a mediator can help you and the other party listen to each other and keep you focused. A mediator is there to help both sides communicate and explore possible solutions. If you and the other party get stuck, the mediator can sometimes help restart the conversation in a new way and help everyone take another step forward.
If you reach an agreement in mediation, that agreement must be put into writing and signed by the parties. The written agreement becomes a legally binding document (contract), which is enforceable by the court.
Mediation provides you with an opportunity to be creative with your solutions. If both sides agree, you can reach a settlement agreement specific to your individual needs. Mediation is different from litigation (a trial), where the judge makes a final decision. With mediation, both sides can “win,” this is called a “win-win” situation.
Mediation is neither a trial nor an arbitration. In a trial, the parties present evidence and argument so a judge decides the outcome of the dispute. Likewise, in arbitration, the parties present evidence and arguments so an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators decides the outcome of a dispute. In mediation, the mediator assists the parties as they talk about their dispute to help them find and explore mutually acceptable resolutions of their dispute. If you reach an agreement at mediation, you do not have to go to trial or arbitration.
Since mediation is a discussion between the parties, it can be much quicker than the formal trial process. Thus, it may also cost less than going to court – in both dollars and stress.
If you resolve the dispute in mediation, you are not gambling on what the judge might decide. In a trial, the final decision will be made by the judge. It is uncertain what decision will be made at trial, but you will be bound by that decision whether you agree with or like the outcome of the trial. At mediation, the parties make the decisions.
In mediation you are talking with each other, the mediator, and your attorney if you bring one. This interaction promotes a better understanding of the actions that lead to the conflict. Sometimes when the parties understand the “why” of the other person’s actions, it helps create a desire to resolve the dispute.
What happens in mediation?
Court-ordered mediation must begin with an introduction by the mediator explaining the process and the role of the mediator. Among other things, the mediator should explain that the parties make the decisions, not the mediator. The mediator’s introduction is usually followed by an opportunity for you and the other party to describe your concerns. If your lawyer is with you at mediation, these opening remarks may be made by you, your lawyer, or both of you. After these initial procedures, how the mediation is conducted varies. The mediator usually will meet with both parties together to discuss the issues to help you work out your differences. The mediator may also meet with each party privately. This separate meeting is called a caucus. Generally, unless you give the mediator permission to repeat what you say in caucus, the mediator is prohibited from sharing what is discussed.
If you are represented by a lawyer, you and your lawyer will decide how the two of you will interact during the mediation. Some lawyers instruct their clients not to talk during mediation. If this is your decision with your lawyer it is fine; however, it is important for you to know that you are allowed to speak to the mediator at any time.
Eventually, the mediation will end in one of three ways, either: 1) the parties reach an agreement as to some or all issues – all parties (and their lawyers if present) must sign the agreement; 2) the mediator declares an impasse (because you, the other party, or both are unwilling to continue discussing resolution); or 3) the mediator, with the parties’ consent, continues the mediation session by adjourning for the day. If the mediator declares an impasse as to some or all issues, then you and the other party will have to go back to court to have the judge decide your case.
Tips on How to Prepare for a Mediation
Before you attend a mediation, there are a few things you can do to help prepare yourself and to help make the mediation more beneficial to you.
Because a mediator cannot give any legal advice to any parties, if you are not currently represented by an attorney but you have legal questions about your case (including what your case may be worth or what to accept as a “good” settlement), you should contact an attorney before the mediation, so you may make an informed decision about settling your case. If you cannot afford one, Legal Aid or The Florida Bar may have a program to assist you.
Go over all of the information that you have and organize it. It may be helpful to list events in the order in which they occurred. Gather any documents about your issue and put them in a folder to bring with you to the mediation. If you have an attorney, talk to your attorney about your case and mediation. Your attorney may be able to provide you with even more information on what to do during the mediation
Arrive at the mediation on time. Be prepared to talk to the other party in the dispute. Even if you have had problems talking to the other party on your own, the mediator is there to help with communication. Be aware of the security regulations in the building where your mediation is to take place.
Get the issues straight in your head. If it helps, write the issues down. Think about which issues are the most important to you as well as which issues are least important. In addition, think about what may be most and least important to the other person or party.
It is important that you arrive at your mediation on time. There are things you should consider in order to be on time – one item is parking. At many buildings, it is difficult to park. Find out in advance about what parking is available and the cost. You may have to pay fees prior to appearing at the mediation or in court. Arrive in enough time to pay your fees.
If you have children who must be cared for, you should arrange for a babysitter. Often courts and other mediation meeting places do not have anyone to care for children and children are generally not allowed in a mediation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and Helpful Links
More information is available on this website. If you choose to get more information about mediation from the internet, please be advised that other states have different rules and only the Florida rules apply to mediation when you are mediating in Florida courts.
You do not have to have an attorney at mediation. However, it may be helpful to consult an attorney prior to going to mediation or to have an attorney with you
Whether someone may mediate for you depends on the connection that person has to either the case or the people involved in the mediation. Because a mediator must be both neutral and impartial, the mediator should not have any close connection to anyone in the dispute or anyone participating in the mediation. If the mediator does have such a close personal or business connection, (examples: parent, employee, landlord) the mediator may not mediate that dispute. If the connection is not close, then the mediator must disclose the connection. If you recognize any connection or relationship to the mediator, you must disclose the connection as soon as you are aware of the connection. Once the connection is disclosed, if all parties agree, the mediator may serve.
Non-parties (examples are: friends, relatives, advisers.) may attend the mediation ONLY if all parties agree. If all parties do not agree, non-parties may not attend the mediation. Therefore, it is best to ask the mediator about bringing someone with you before you go to the mediation. Anyone who attends a mediation is bound by confidentiality.
Generally, the rule is that people who attend a mediation may only discuss what is said in a mediation with others who attend the mediation or their attorney.
At mediation you can resolve all of your issues, some of your issues, or none of your issues. If a full or partial agreement is reached, all resolved issues must be written down and all parties in the dispute and their attorneys (if appearing at the mediation) must sign. If, there is only a partial agreement that means there are still issues to be resolved by the court. Those issues will be addressed in a trial unless they are settled after the mediation but before the trial begins.
If you do not reach an agreement at your court-ordered mediation, the mediator must report to the court the fact that no agreement was reached. The confidentiality rules still apply. Even if you do not reach an agreement during the mediation, you may continue to try to settle your case after mediation. If you settle your case after mediation but before trial, contact the court to ask what procedures you need to follow.
Please note: in some cases, you are not able to select your mediator. For example, if you are using a court program, such as in small claims and family court, the mediator may be selected for you by the court or the court program.
Our costs are
The length of a mediation will depend on many factors. Mediation may range from a half hour to a day or several days, depending on the complexity of the case or number of parties in the dispute.
In cases where the mediator is not appointed by the judge, when choosing a mediator, you may wish to consider any number of factors, including the mediator’s background, training, and experience with mediation or with your type of case. You may also wish to consider the fees the mediator proposes to charge. If you have a lawyer, the lawyer may know many mediators; you can also ask friends or trusted colleagues; or you can visit the websites of statewide organizations.
PLEASE NOTE: These definitions are provided to assist the reader in understanding the terms used in this document. They are not “legal” definitions; rather, the terms are explained in plain English to attempt to ensure the greatest level of understanding.
A private meeting at a mediation between the mediator and one side. “Information obtained during caucus may not be revealed by the mediator to any other mediation participant without the consent of the disclosing party.”
Florida Supreme Court Certified mediators
In Florida, individuals who have completed a Florida Supreme Court certified training program for mediation and satisfied other requirements may designate themselves as “Florida Supreme Court certified.” As of October 2014, there are five certification areas: county; circuit; family; dependency; and appellate.
Keeping discussions and information private. With only a few exceptions, mediations are confidential. Unless one of the exceptions applies, you may only discuss what happened or was said at mediation with your attorney, another person who attended the mediation, or that person’s attorney.
Not showing any favoritism or prejudice. A mediator must remain impartial at all times and must not show a preference for one party or another.
Other terms you may encounter:
The person against whom a legal action has been filed. Depending on which court you are in, these terms may differ.
Guardian ad Litem
A specially trained person appointed by the court to represent the interests of a minor child or incompetent adult party. The guardian acts on the child’s or adult’s behalf, making sure their needs are considered.
A final order entered by a judge at the end of a lawsuit. A judgment is usually not confidential and may be obtained from the court records. A judgment is enforceable by the court. If there is a full agreement in family mediation, the next step is obtaining a final hearing and having the Court enter the Final Judgment.
The person who has brought a legal action.
A person who does not have a lawyer and is representing themselves.