The short answer to why you are going is because it is probably required; there are some counties around the Tampa Bay area (Hillsborough, for example) that require mediation before a divorce case can be set for trial. The other answer is because, almost without fail, it will result in a better outcome than if you left the case up to a judge at trial. Mediation gives you control over the decisions. It lets you negotiate for things that are important to you, and sacrifice those that may not matter to you. Often times, spouses value different things. Mediation will allow spouses to both walk away with an agreement that they are pleased with because it is their agreement, not a court order created by a disinterested third party. The spouses are the ones who control mediation, who decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, who decide which person gets what asset or which holiday with the children. At mediation, nobody can force you to agree to anything. If your case goes to trial, both parties may walk away with everything they didn’t want, because a judge may take everything and split it down the middle, without considering who has a personal connection with a certain holiday or piece of personal property. Settling a case at mediation is without a doubt the best way to resolve your family law case.
When you go to mediation, you should have already met with your attorney and have a game plan. Your attorney should know your goals, big and small, and have an idea of where you would like to start the negotiation, as well as where your “bottom line” is on all of the major issues. If you are attending mediation with a private mediator, you should prepare for a long day, which may get emotional or stressful. It is important to not give up, and to stay engaged the entire time. Your attorney and the mediator will be able to help you with this, as they will be able to explain things from an objective perspective, and help with a cost-benefit analysis of all options presented. The most important thing you can do to ensure a successful mediation is to prepare, prepare, prepare.
The Mediation Process in Florida
Mediation conferences happen in almost every single family law case in Florida, both in initial case and post-judgment cases (those re-opened for a modification). Mediation conferences usually take place after all or most of the necessary discovery is exchanged. Exchanging discovery before mediation is important, as it allows you and your attorney to review the finances of the marriage, as well as everything else that was provided. Before your mediation conference, you should meet with your attorney to determine what your goals are, and exactly how far you are willing to negotiate on each issue in your case. Having this meeting in advance of the mediation conference is important, as without it, you will end up spending time during the mediation conference discussing these topics instead of negotiating.
When you arrive at the mediation conference, you and your attorney should be placed in a room alone, while your spouse and his or her attorney will be placed in a separate room. The mediator will go between the rooms, discussing the case with each room individually. Mediations typically start with a brief introduction, when the mediator explains their role, the confidentiality limits of mediation, and gets some basic information about the issues in your case. Once this introduction is complete, you and your attorney will discuss your position on the issues in your case with the mediator, and may explain why you hold certain positions. Giving the mediator some perspective can be helpful, as it will aid them in advocating for your position with your spouse. However, if you disclose information you do not want your spouse to know about, the mediator is required to keep this information confidential, and will not tell your spouse.
The goal of mediation is to leave with all of the issues in your case resolved, and a signed agreement to submit to the court. Depending on the complexity of your case, your mediation could take a few hours, an entire day, or longer. The most important thing to remember is that it is your mediation – your attorney is there to support you, to advise you on the law, and to advocate for your position. The mediator is there to negotiate an agreement between you and your spouse. You are the only one who can decide if you are going to accept or reject an offer or an agreement, which is why mediations are such useful tools in family law cases. This kind of power does not happen in a trial, when the judge, who is a stranger to you, decides how your life is going to be resolved. Mediations are one of the few ways that you can continue to control how your case is decided.