Mediation and Other Options for a Florida Divorce, Part I

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

605771_swimming_pool.jpgOptions in a Florida divorce exceed beyond having to go to a trial. In a world where divorce seems an agonizing process and we are often inundated with horror stories of years of litigation, spouses dragging each other through the muck, and much more. However, in Florida, there are other ways to get divorced instead of simply committing to litigation or trial. The options consist of the following: pre-filing mediation; collaborative divorce; an uncontested divorce; filing for divorce and then going to mediation. As a Jacksonville divorce lawyer, I think understanding these concepts can help spouses determine what is in their best interest and their children’s best interest as they part ways.

What is pre-filing mediation? First, mediation is a process of both parties meeting with a neutral third party to determine if they can reach an agreement regarding all aspects of their divorce, such as: division of assets and debts, alimony, division of the marital home, a visitation schedule, and the like. The parties usually meet in the same room initially and then are separated and the mediator will go between the parties to help negotiate a settlement. If that process is successful, then they will file a petition with the court for the divorce and put into the petition that both parties have reached an agreement. Then, the final settlement agreement or Final Judgment has to be entered with the judge and only one spouse has to attend the hearing. If you choose this process, you still have the right to have a lawyer with you so that you understand your rights and options if you were to reach an agreement or what may happen if you go to court. The mediator, though neutral, cannot provide you with legal advice, so it’s a good idea to at least meet with an attorney prior to attending the mediation.

What is a collaborative divorce? This process is a little different because it goes into much greater detail for the parties from beginning to end. First, both parties hire an attorney that is familiar with the collaborative process. Second, instead of the parties signing a normal attorney/client contract they each sign one with their own attorney stating that they understand the attorney cannot represent him or her if the collaborative process is not successful. The reason for this is due to the nature of collaborative law is for the parties to share all information with one another and the attorneys can and will have a conflict of interest since the idea is for both sides to lay their cards on the table.

The discovery process is still necessary, regarding such things as bank statements, retirement account statements, credit card invoices, and the like. The parties share the information and in developing the right strategy for the parties, there is usually a moderator that meets with the parties and their attorneys to help sift through their differences. Also, if necessary, the moderator may recommend the use of a neutral financial adviser or CPA to help the parties understand how things will be divided in the outcome of the divorce and to help determine what may work for alimony and other support. In addition, a parenting coordinator may be helpful in helping the parties reach an agreement with regards to the children.

The other types of options available to the spouses, such as an uncontested divorce and post filing mediation will be discussed later in the week. If the goal is reaching an agreement, then knowing your options can be helpful in deciding what kind of divorce lawyer you may need and for what purpose.