You are finally at the point of going to mediation What do you do to be prepared?
There are practicalities, such as knowing where the mediation will take place? If the mediation session is virtual, do you have the link to log in? And after you log in, will you have privacy? The mediator will ask whether you are in a private room; no one can be there with you because of confidentiality. Everything that occurs in mediation is confidential.
If the mediation is in person, do you know where to go? Where will you park? How will you dress? Do you need to bring snacks or medication?
Other considerations are does your attorney have all needed documents? These include prepared schedules of equitable distribution, and if you have children, a parenting plan and child support guidelines. Are there any financial documents which still need to be obtained and reviewed, and if so, will the lack of such documents prevent an agreement being reached? Should the mediation be delayed while you obtain the missing information?
Finally, and importantly, are you locked into a position, or can you be flexible and goal oriented?
Mediation is required in most family law courts before a matter can be brought before a judge. Sometimes mediation can be waived or is not required, but the judge prefers that family law disputes are decided by the parties themselves. It is easier to live with a decision when you participate in the decision-making process rather than have someone in a black robe decide your and your children’s lives.
The judge often issues a “order of referral to mediation” which requires the petitioner to initiate scheduling a mediation with a private mediator or with Court Services. Talk to your lawyer about whether to work with a private mediator or Court Services. A private mediator schedules the mediation for a half day or full day and charges an hourly rate. Court Services charges a flat rate per person for a limited time period of up to two or three hours. If the mediation is not concluded within the designated time, another session will be scheduled for additional time with the same flat fee.
The mediator is neutral and won’t take sides. The mediator is trained to help facilitate agreement. He or she works to find areas of agreement that may be easier to resolve. From there, building on those areas will help you reach agreement on bigger issues, even if they may initially appear insurmountable.
In family law mediations, typically, the parties meet in separate rooms with their lawyers and the mediator shuttles back and forth between the rooms. The mediator won’t disclose what you say unless you specifically tell them to. Sometimes the mediator will meet separately with the lawyers.
Everything said in mediation is completely confidential. It can’t be discussed outside of the mediation, and you can’t tell the judge if the case doesn’t settle that “my spouse offered ABC in mediation.” Confidentiality applies to the mediator as well as to the attorneys and parties. The mediator can’t be subpoenaed to testify about what was said during the mediation sessions.
Mediation is non-adversarial, and the mediator and your lawyer will try to help you be comfortable klduring the process. This does not mean the mediator won’t ever play “devil’s advocate” to help you understand your spouse’s position and the risk the judge may agree with your spouse and not you.
The benefits of a mediated agreement are worthwhile. Such an agreement between divorcing partners offers a guaranteed result without the risk of an adverse decision by the judge, and closure.
Jeanne L. Coleman is a Florida Supreme Court Mediator located in Hillsborough County, Florida. She conducts virtual mediation statewide and in person mediation.