Mediation and arbitration are alternative dispute resolution methods that have been used in Florida for over 30 years. Divorce cases are well served by mediation, and for child custody issues, in some jurisdictions mediation is actually mandatory.
In arbitration, parties to the dispute present evidence, and then the arbitrator decides. The arbitrator’s decision is binding. This is not the case in mediation, in which a thorough discussion is facilitated by a trained, impartial mediator who helps both parties air their concerns and then decide together.
Mediation has become a well-trodden path because it presents great advantages in terms of containing costs, saving time (it can be over in several hours or a few days), achieving increased privacy, decreased stress and a resolution that’s much more responsive to both parties’ needs. It’s a decision that the parties themselves make, rather than a decision made by an outside party.
The mediator is prohibited from doing therapy, couple counseling, or giving legal or business advice. The mediator’s sole purpose is to dig into the issues with both parties, who may be represented by counsel if they so choose. The mediator may caucus privately and confidentially with each party, and finally guides them both to a plausible meeting ground.
At the end of mediation, if an agreement is reached, it must be put into writing and signed by both parties. That agreement will be legally binding and enforceable by the court.
If cooler heads cannot prevail . . .
However, when all is said and done, if there are issues that cannot be resolved, the mediator declares an impasse, and the case gets kicked back to the court where the judge decides.
Each case ultimately has its own path, but for many couples mediation has proved useful. To explore what your best options might be, it’s helpful to consult with skilled counsel experienced in this area of the law.