Many marriages experience a crisis leading to divorce. When spouses cannot overcome the difficult period (alone or with professional help) and stay together, the only way out is a dissolution.
In 1971, Florida ended its fault-state divorce system. In a no-fault state, the spouses do not have to prove the guilt or a reason for divorce. Not wishing to be married is a sufficient cause for a divorce. More specifically, Florida’s no-fault divorce law provides two grounds for divorce.
First, you can seek divorce in case of an irretrievable breakdown. Any spouse can file for divorce on this ground if they feel their marriage has no hopes of surviving.
In the second instance, a party can seek divorce if their spouse suffers from mental incapacity.
In a no-fault system, the central part of divorce proceedings is child custody, child support, parenting time allocation, spousal support, and marital property division. There are two ways of resolving divorce disputes: litigation and mediation. A couple who files for a divorce in court can engage in mediation at any time during court proceedings, even after divorce litigation.
But, the main question remains: is divorce mediation mandatory or optional in Florida?
The answer is not that simple.
In general, there is no mandatory mediation in divorce cases in Florida. That means that spouses do not have to initiate a mediation process before filing for divorce in court.
However, there is the so-called court-ordered mediation. Under Florida Statutes (§ 44.102), the court may refer to mediation in all or any part of a filed civil action for which mediation is not mandatory. Since divorce mediation is not obligatory under the mentioned section, the court may order mediation in divorce cases depending on factual circumstances.
In practice, the court looks at whether the parties settled the issues around alimony, child custody, or property division. If the spouses cannot agree on these issues (the contested divorce), the court has the authority to refer the divorcing couple to mediation before a court hearing.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the spouses can continue litigation at any time, presenting their case to the trial judge and seeking a binding decision.
Hence, the answer to the above question is twofold – if the spouses agree on all vital questions related to the divorce, the judge will not refer them to mediation, and the court hearing will proceed. Contrarily, in the case of a contested divorce, the judge may order mediation before continuing with the hearing.
Mediation is an out-of-court, non-adversarial process involving a neutral third person called the mediator. The parties choose a mediator voluntarily by signing an agreement to mediate. In family matters, mediators are usually retired judges, attorneys, or other professionals with knowledge and experience in divorce-related issues. In addition, mediators possess sophisticated negotiation skills, facilitating negotiations between the spouses without imposing decisions or suggesting solutions. Typically, there are four stages in mediation. The process starts with an introduction. The mediators introduce themselves and present their credentials. In opening statements, the parties get the opportunity to give their initial arguments regarding the case. After that, the spouses withdraw to separate rooms while the mediator goes back and forth between them. During the private sessions (co-called caucuses), the mediator evaluates each side’s arguments and estimates the possibility of settling. During a joint session, the parties gather at a negotiation table, bringing their offers and counteroffers. Successful negotiations result in a settlement. The spouses sign a marital mediation agreement that is enforceable in court.
The key feature of the mediation process is its reconciliatory effect. Unlike litigation, as an adversarial, vindictive procedure, mediation aims at reconciling the spouses, helping them build a constructive future relationship. Instead of further deteriorating already disrupted relations, mediation enables the spouses to keep healthy post-divorce communication and co-parenting relationship.
Every stage of the court divorce process (discovery, witness testimony, opening, and closing arguments, jury deliberation) involves various costs, such as court filing and attorney fees. Because mediation is an out-of-court process, there are no strict rules governing the procedure. Consequently, the expenses are lower compared to litigation. Additionally, the process is time-effective, usually lasting several days.
Confidentiality is one of the central features of mediation. As opposed to litigation, with its public hearings, nothing revealed during mediation sessions will ever become part of the public record.
Bruce Childers is a distinguished family law attorney in Pensacola, Florida, with years of experience dealing with contested family matters.
Whether you need professional assistance with alimony, child custody, child support, or property division, Mr. Childers can help you in court or at a negotiation table.
Reach out to us for custom-tailored advice that suits your unique situation.