In most areas of civil law in Florida, mediation has become the norm before a case can proceed to trial. As a result, understanding the mediation process can be useful to anyone involved in a civil court proceeding. This includes cases involving personal injury, divorce, contract disputes, etc.
What is Mediation, and What it is Not
Mediation is a process where the parties (and usually their attorneys if they are represented by counsel) meet together with a third party known as the mediator. In Florida, mediators go through special training and are certified by the Florida Supreme Court. A mediator may or may not be an attorney, although most mediators are attorneys. In some cases, family law mediators are licensed mental health or counseling professionals.
The purpose of mediation is to discuss the issues with the objective of reaching a resolution or settlement. The mediator does not hear evidence and make any type of decision or ruling on the case. Instead, the mediator acts as a facilitator and negotiator and tries to help the parties reach an agreement on some or all of the issues in dispute.
How Mediation Usually Works
Every mediator has their own style and method for conducting mediation. However, on average, most mediators will conduct the mediation using separate rooms, one for each party. The mediator starts out giving a basic explanation of mediation to the parties. After that, the mediator then gives each party a chance to briefly state the issues and their position on those issues. If attorneys are involved, the attorneys usually state their client's position during this initial part of the mediation. Often, the attorneys will have already submitted to the mediator a brief written statement explaining the facts and laying out the issues in dispute.
Once the introductory matters are concluded, the mediator will first meet with one party to identify that party's position. For example, in a divorce, the mediator might meet first with the party who filed the initial divorce petition. The purpose would be to see what that party seeks as far as parenting, child support, alimony, distribution of assets, etc. Once the first party's position has been identified, the mediator will then go to the other party and discuss these areas of requested relief. Thereafter, there usually follows a process where the mediator goes back and forth between the parties and tries to get the parties to agree on the issues in dispute. Some people have likened this to a form of "shuttle diplomacy" between the parties.