According to Florida Statute, Mediation is a process whereby a neutral third person called a Mediator acts to encourage and facilitate the resolution of a dispute between two or more parties. It is an informal and non-adversarial process with the objective of helping the disputing parties reach a mutually acceptable and voluntary agreement. In mediation, decision-making authority rests with the parties. The Mediator is not a judge. He or she does not have the authority to order either party to do, or not to do something. The Mediator’s role is to assist the parties in finding some middle ground to settle their case.
So why mediate? First of all, we mediate because every judge requires us to do so. The parties are always required to attend mediation prior to trial. Many judges, and now most, require mediation even before a temporary relief hearing. The judges mandate mediation because it works. Most divorce cases are settled. And most cases are settled through attending mediation. Judges are permitted to appoint a mediator in your case, or the parties, through their counsel, may select their own mediator.
What are the benefits of mediation? First and foremost, parties are able to settle their case without the necessity of trial. This saves substantial costs, both monetary costs as well as the emotional costs of going through a trial. And in the event a settlement is not reached, both parties still benefit in that they always learn something about the other side’s case. Maybe not substantively, although that happens too, but certainly both sides are able to assess what is really important to the other side. Even in the event a settlement is not reached, that knowledge is very helpful at trial.
How does mediation work? At least one judge in Broward County suggests that both parties should go to mediation with a list of everything they want and then be prepared to give up everything on their list. Remember, mediation is a negotiation. Neither party will get everything they want. Both parties will be required to compromise on their list of “wants” if an agreement is to be reached. I suggest that parties really need to have two lists. One list is the list of everything they want. The other list is the more realistic list of what they are willing to accept to settle their case and avoid a trial (their “bottom line” list). If the process works, AND IT DOES WORK, each party should be able to get some of the items on their “wants” list and will have to accept some of their “bottom line” items as well. Once the parties reach an agreement, the terms are reduced to writing in a formal Mediated Settlement Agreement, both parties sign the agreement, and the parties can be divorced as quickly as five days later.
How do we choose a mediator? Mediators come in all shapes and sizes: accountants, psychologists, lawyers, retired judges, and others. In Family Mediation, it is best to have someone experienced in family law, experienced with the judge that is handling your case, experienced with your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer, and experienced with conducting trials on the very issues you are trying to resolve in your case. Fred Dedrick is that Mediator. He is fully knowledgeable about the law, he knows the overwhelming majority of lawyers currently practicing in the area of family law in South Florida, and he has appeared in front of every sitting judge in Broward County on numerous occasions.