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FAQs about Family Mediation

First Coast Family Mediation in Jacksonville proudly serves families throughout North Florida, including Duval, Clay, St. Johns, and Nassau counties.

Can I go to mediation before a case is filed?

Absolutely. Agreements in family law cases can be reached at any time, and often the chances of settlement are greater when the parties have not started the adversarial process of litigation.

Is mediation confidential?

Absolutely. Everything that is said or discussed in mediation is confidentiality, and that confidentiality is binding on all the participants, including the mediator. It is designed that way so the parties feel free to explore all possible solutions to their problems without fear that the other side will use it against them later on.

Additionally, there may be times where the parties are in separate rooms to either speak privately with the mediator or to discuss their position with their attorney. This is called a "caucus." In these situations, whatever is discussed in caucus stays confidential and will not be discussed with the other mediating party unless express permission is given.

Can I got to mediation if a case has already been filed?

Absolutely. In fact, most judges require the parties to attend mediation before setting a case for trial. Experience has shown that mediation simply works, and the majority of cases settle at the mediation table. The court system knows this, which is why they send almost every case to mediation before undertaking an exhaustive trial process.

Can I go to mediation if there is already a final judgment?

Many court orders are in need of modification due to the ever-changing circumstances within the family dynamic. People's lives change constantly, and often times a court order that worked at the moment it was entered may no longer adequately address the needs of the family. Parties are free to attend mediation to work on these modifications if they both agree, or, if a modification proceeding is filed, the court may order the parties back to mediation to try and work out the issues.

Can the mediator make a ruling if we can't agree?

No. The mediator is not a judge and must remain neutral throughout the entire process. The mediator will help facilitate the process and strive to help the parties get around impasses using his/her training and experiences, but the mediator cannot be the final say so of the case. It is for the parties to decide on the final outcome.

Can the mediator give me advice?

No. The mediator is not permitted to give legal advice to either party in a mediation. Doing so would influence the parties' right to self-determination and affect the neutrality of the mediator. Parties seeking legal advice have the right to have a lawyer present at mediation, or to consult with a lawyer at any time.

What is the mediation process?

There are several steps in a mediation, including:

  • Pleadings/discovery
    • If made available by the parties, the Mediator will read any relevant pleadings or documents prior to the session. This allows the mediator to have a better understanding of the legal issues in dispute.
  • Opening statement
    • The mediator will meet with both parties and inform them of the mediation process, as well as some general rules that will need to be followed. The parties may also, if they so desire, provide the mediator with a short statement concerning the issues in dispute or any other information the mediator will need to know.
  • Negotiations
    • The mediator will attempt to bring the parties to an amicable resolution by consulting with both individuals together, or separately, if needed.
  • Caucus
    • Most mediations allow the parties, if necessary, to separate during the negotiation process. If this occurs, the mediator will spend time working with both parties until a resolution can be reached.
  • Settlement Agreeemnt
    • When an agreement is reached, the negotiated disposition will be reduced to writing, and signed by all parties

What happens if we reach an agreement/settle at mediation?

If the parties are able to reach an agreement, it will be reduced to writing and all the parties will sign. This agreement can be used as a complete settlement agreement and attached to any final decree issued by the court. Alternatively, the parties can take the agreement to an attorney who may put the terms of the agreement into a "judgment" that will be adopted by the court.

What if we can't settle everything?

People are often able to settle some of their issues, but are not able to reach a final agreement on everything. An example of this would be a couple who agrees to custody issues regarding the kids, but are unable to decide on alimony. In such cases there are two options. The parties can agree to take a break and continue the mediation on another day, or the parties can reach a partial mediation agreement, settling once and for all those issues that they were able to agree on. In the latter instance, the remaining issues would have to be litigated in front of a judge.

How long does mediation typically last?

The length of a mediation really depends on the number and complexity of the issues involved. Obviously, a case handling alimony, child support, custody issues, equitable distribution, etc., will take longer than spouses who are going through a divorce without kids or support claims. Most sessions last three to six hours, with breaks provided for the parties as needed.

Do I have to participate - even if court-ordered to attend mediation?

Mediation is a voluntary process. If it weren't, then the point of mediation would be moot since the parties' right to self-determination is being affected. When a court orders parties to mediation, the court is requiring the parties to attend a mediation and go through the process. The process, however, does not require, nor does it force, the parties to reach an agreement. Accordingly, a party must attempt mediation in this scenario, but is not forced to reach an agreement.

Can I bring someone to mediation?

Many times a person feels more comfortable if they are able to bring a friend, family member or confidant to the mediation session. While a party may feel more comfortable with this person present, their presence may affect the fairness and neutrality of the process. Parties should appear by themselves or with counsel if they are represented. Anyone wanting another person to attend should bring this to the attention of the mediator and the other party as soon as possible and well in advance of the session. If all parties agree, then the individual may attend the session. Note, however, that such an individual becomes a mediation participant and is bound by the same rules of confidentiality as everyone else.

I do not feel comfortable being in the same room as my husband/wife. Can we still mediate?

Absolutely. There may be times when the parties feel that being in the same room together may cause intimidation, fear, or even potentially violence. Again, the process only works if the parties feel free to explore their options and are not being affected in any way by outside influences. In these cases, the parties can still mediate, but in separate rooms. The mediator will meet privately with each party and move from room to room to facilitate the process and negotiate a settlement. Any communication made during these private sessions (called a "caucus") will remain confidential and will not be disclosed to the other mediating party unless expressly permitted by the participant.

Who, or what, is a mediator?

A mediator is a neutral and impartial third party who encourages and facilitates the resolution of a dispute. He or she is not the ultimate decision-making authority; that rests squarely with the main parties. A mediator can be an attorney experienced in family law, but it is not required.

What does a mediator do?

As a neutral facilitator, a mediator helps the parties reach a mutually agreeable understanding. The key role of a mediator is to reduce obstacles to communication, assist in identifying issues and exploring alternatives. A mediator safeguards the mediation process by promoting mutual respect among the participants

What does it mean if the meditator is "certified"?

Any mediator in the state of Florida must meet specific criteria and educational requirements. Those requirements are listed here. The Florida Bar certifies mediators in the areas that they qualify for after a screening process.

If you or a loved one are dealing with legal concerns involving family, then please contact First Coast Family Mediation today at 904-731-3800. We welcome men and women from Jacksonville, Orange Park, St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach and beyond.

For more information about family mediation and our services at First Coast Family Mediation in Jacksonville, please visit the following:

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