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How mediation helps divorcing couples settle their disputes

Many couples in Central Florida who are considering ending their marriages worry about the emotional stress that will be inflicted upon themselves and their children. Also, many divorcing spouses view the other spouse as a bottomless pit of anger and vitriol who will use every disagreement as a weapon to inflict emotional pain. Florida courts have established a procedure which, if understood and used properly, can eliminate much of the anger, speed up the process and, most beneficially, reduce the cost of the proceeding.

The procedure is called divorce mediation, and it turns upon the use of a neutral third-party to help the divorcing couple understand how each of them views the issues between them, such as property division and child support. While mediation is usually viewed as a voluntary process, the court may order the parties to participate in mediation to speed up the process. The mediator is usually a lawyer or psychologist or social worker who has been trained in mediation techniques. A mediator can be chosen by the divorcing parties, their lawyers or, in some cases, by the judge. The mediator will usually solicit a written statement from each party or their attorney setting out the main disputes in the case and how each party thinks the dispute should be resolved.

After receiving these statements, the mediator will arrange an initial face-to-face meeting with the parties and their attorney. The parties are free to submit any additional commentary on the various disputes. The mediator will then moderate a discussion of these issues. Sometimes, both parties will be in the room so they can hear the other party offer comments on the issues. Sometimes, these statements will be delivered confidentially. The mediator can then meet separately with each party to discuss the issues.

If the parties reach an agreement on some or all of the issues in the divorce, the mediator will reduce the agreement to a written contract that is signed by both parties and their lawyers. People often wonder what happens if they cannot reach an agreement with their estranged spouse. This question highlights the central feature of mediation: reaching an agreement is purely voluntary. The mediator cannot compel any agreements or issue any binding orders. If a divorcing couple wants to resolve, say, the question of property division, the mediator will help them do so. If they are unable to agree, they will be forced to resolve this issue in a trial before the judge. The specter of an expensive and lengthy trial is often sufficient to convince even the most argumentative person to accept a reasonable compromise instead of going to court.

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