Questions of child custody often weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of parents headed toward divorce. How much time will you be able to spend with your child? How much control will you retain over important decisions about education, healthcare and daily routines?
It’s exceedingly rare that divorcing parents will agree on all these issues. They most often need someone to help them resolve their disputes. But does that someone need to be a courtroom judge? Could it be a mediator? Does Florida, like some other states, require parents to take their custody disputes into mediation?
Mediation is not required in all cases
The short answer is, “No.” Florida does not require all parents to take their custody disputes to mediation.
A better answer is that Florida generally favors mediation. It even requires mediation at times. When it sees fit, the court can order couples to try resolving their disputes in mediation. And even when the court doesn’t order mediation, parents can choose to try it on their own. As the First Judicial Circuit of Florida notes, the process offers a few key advantages over courtroom battles:
- You gain more control. In court, the judge decides what’s best for the child, and parents must wait with bated breath to see what the judge will rule. But in mediation, you can set your goals and concede certain points to improve your chances of getting what’s most important.
- It’s usually faster. There are fewer courts than mediators. If you want to take your case to court, you’ll need to get in line. Then you’ll need to develop your argument, submit your evidence, call your witnesses and present all the information that might help the court understand your point of view. The other parent will do the same. In mediation, you can shortcut much of the presentation and procedures. You can go straight to discussing your goals and details.
- It costs less. You may work with a lawyer even if you mediate your custody dispute, but if the process is shorter than a courtroom battle, that means lower legal fees. You’re also paying far less for the mediator than for the judge and courtroom.
In short, mediation is often the best way to resolve your custody disputes, even if it isn’t always mandatory.
Can you reach an agreement in mediation?
For any agreement reached during mediation to be enforceable, both parties need to sign it and present it to the court. But that’s not always possible. Mediation may be best in most cases, but it’s not for everyone. There may be better options in cases of abuse or high conflict.