Serving Sarasota Since 1973

All About Family Law Mediation

Mediation is a part of almost every case in family law.  Whether you are involved in a divorce, a modification of child support, alimony, or timesharing, or a paternity case, you are likely going to participate in mediation.  You may have heard about it but may not know exactly what it is.  Mediation is a confidential process, which means that it’s kind of like Las Vegas.  What happens in mediation stays in mediation unless an agreement is reached, in which case it will be reduced to writing and filed with the Court.  The mediator does not report anything that is said to the Court.  At the end of mediation, the mediator only files a report with the court indicating who attended (parties and attorneys) and that (1) an agreement was reached or (2) the mediation has reached an impasse (the parties were unable to reach an agreement) or (3) that the mediation was adjourned, which means that they decided to come back another day to try further mediation.  The mediator is a neutral third party who is there to help the parties reach an agreement.  He or she is not a judge and has no power to make decisions or order the parties to do anything.

Parties can attend mediation without attorneys but it is better practice for them both to have counsel since the mediator, who is usually a family law attorney, cannot give legal advice to either party.  Mediation is very effective and the vast majority of cases are resolved in mediation.  In fact, the Court requires that most matters are mediated before a hearing can be scheduled.  This does not prevent attorneys from negotiating on behalf of their clients prior to setting mediation.

There are several different options for scheduling mediation.  First, parties whose combined gross incomes is less than $100,000 can schedule mediation with the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Family Mediation Program.  This program offers three hours of mediation with a Florida Supreme Court Certified mediator for a cost of either $60 or $120 per person, depending on the combined gross income, for three hours of mediation.  I have used this program numerous times for my qualifying clients and it is a wonderful resource.  The mediators are excellent and have helped settle many of my cases.  Since there is a three hour time limit, this program is especially useful for cases that are not particularly high conflict and in which there aren’t a lot of issues to resolve.

The second option is private mediation.  Private mediators are almost all current or former Florida-licensed family law attorneys.  They generally charge between $250 and $350 per hour though rates can vary.  Mediation can be set for a half-day or a full day.  The full day mediations can go until the case is resolved and sometimes long mediations are necessary in difficult cases.  The issues that seemed really important at 9:00 in the morning are no longer so important at 5:00 at night.

The third option and one that is a hidden gem is the Pre-Filing Family Mediation Program offered by the Twelfth Judicial Circuit.  This program uses Florida Supreme Court certified mediators and it is free.  Yes, completely free.  The catch is that parties have to sign up before filing any action and they must never have had any litigation against one another.  This means no prior dissolution actions filed between the parties, domestic violence injunction, dependency actions, child support cases, etc.  There is no income qualification.  The parties could each earn a million dollars a year and they would still be able to use this program.  I recommend this option to my clients who are fairly amicable with their soon-to-be former spouses and are close to resolution but just have details that need to be ironed out.  Every case that I have mediated through this program has ended in a settlement.  That is the result both of good mediators and picking the right cases for the program.

Whatever mediation program you choose, it puts you in control of the outcome of your case.  Any judge will tell you that this is far preferable to having someone in a black robe who has never met you make decisions that will affect the rest of your life.

Keane & Keane %%sep%% Sarasota, FL