Judges in Florida strongly encourage—and sometimes require—divorcing couples to give mediation a try. In divorce mediation (often called "family mediation" in Florida), a neutral, trained professional meets with both spouses to help them work out their own solutions to the issues they're facing.
The goal of family mediation is to help couples reduce the expense, time, and stress of divorce by reaching a marital settlement agreement. There are both pros and cons to divorce mediation, depending on your specific circumstances. But for most couples, it can be the best route to a relatively smooth divorce.
You and your spouse can use mediation at any stage in the process of splitting up—even after your divorce (also known as a "dissolution of marriage" in Florida) is final.
In order to file for an uncontested divorce in Florida, you and your spouse must agree about the key issues in your divorce:
A mediator can help you resolve any issues that you're having trouble working out on your own. When you choose mediation this early in the process, you're more likely to start out on the path of cooperation and prevent the kind of conflicts that often develop during traditional, contested divorce proceedings. Also, if the mediation results in a complete settlement agreement, you can probably complete your Florida divorce without hiring a lawyer.
Mediation is also an option at any point during your Florida divorce proceeding. In fact, the judge might order you to mediate certain disputes (more on that below).
Even without a court order, some spouses might be more willing to go to mediation once details about their situation have become clear during the "discovery" process (which provides legal tools for getting information and documents that your spouse might have been holding back).
Disputes with your ex don't always end when you get your final divorce decree. That's especially true when you're still co-parenting children. For instance, the parent with physical custody might want to move away with the kids, or either parent may want to change the time-sharing arrangement or the amount of child support.
Family mediation can help you work out these disputes and avoid a fight in court. If you've formally asked the court (by filing a legal motion) to modify any part of your divorce judgment, the court might actually require you to mediate the issue.
In Florida, judges may order divorcing (or already divorced) couples to mediate any legal disputes about family issues—but only if they can pay any fee charged for the mediation. At the same time, judges must order mediation of disputes over child custody in any of Florida's circuit courts that have established a family mediation program (more on that below). (Fla. Stats. §§ 44.102, 61.183; Fla. Fam. Law Rules of Proc., rule 12.740 (2021).)
Local courts may have their own rules and procedures for family mediation. For instance, some local rules automatically require mediation of most divorce or post-divorce disputes before the court will schedule a final hearing on the issue.
As a general rule, you can choose your own mediator after the judge orders you to mediation. If you and your spouse can't agree on a mediator within ten days of the order, the judge will appoint one for you. In some cases, when you're using a local court's family mediation program, the program or the judge might assign a mediator to your case.
If you don't show up at a mediation conference that you've been ordered to attend, the judge will impose sanctions on you, including ordering you to pay the mediator's fees and your spouse's other costs. (Fla. Fam. Law Rules of Proc., rule 12.741 (2021).)
The cost of divorce mediation depends on a number of factors. The most important price difference depends on whether you use private mediation or mediation through Florida's courts.
If a judge has ordered you to mediate your dispute, you should be able to get low-cost mediation with your local court's family mediation program, as long as your income is below the state's threshold. Florida law sets the cost for court-connected mediation:
If you and your spouse earn at least $100,000, it's assumed that you can afford to pay for private mediation, even when the court has ordered you to mediate your case. In that situation, however, you can object to the mediator's rate of compensation (per hour or session), and the judge may decide whether that rate is reasonable. (Fla. Stats. § 44.108, Fla. Family Law Rules of Proc., rule 12.740 (2021).)
The cost of private mediation (whether with a mediation service or an individual mediator) also depends on several variables, including:
The total cost typically ranges from $3,000 to $8,000 (which is usually split between both spouses). If this sounds like a lot, you should know that when mediation leads to a settlement, it's almost always much less expensive than going to trial to have a judge make a decision about the unresolved issues in your divorce. (Learn how contested issues affect the cost of divorce.)
Most divorce mediation follows the same basic stages, including:
If you and your spouse are able to agree on any or all of the issues, the mediator will usually prepare a document that reflects that agreement. In cases when the court has referred you to mediation of custody or child-support issues, the mediator will prepare a formal consent order that incorporates your agreement. You and your spouse (and your lawyers, if you have them) will sign the document if you approve it. (Fla. Stat. § 61.183 (2021).)
Family mediation generally isn't appropriate when there's ongoing domestic violence or emotional abuse in a marriage. The mediation process requires that both sides feel free to agree—or not—to the terms of a settlement, without pressure or fear of future abuse. If you choose to use mediation despite a history of abuse or bullying by your spouse, you can always ask to have the mediator meet with you and your spouse separately, even when it's online mediation.
Under Florida law, abuse victims may request that their custody disputes not be referred to mediation. Judges must grant those requests when they find there has been a history of domestic violence that could get in the way of the mediation process. (Fla. Stat. § 44.102(2)(c) (2021).)
If you're a domestic violence victim and are considering divorce, you should contact a family law attorney and/or domestic violence advocate for help. (But be sure to consider the privacy of your phone or other devices, since your abuser might be able to see your call or search history.) Several organizations provide assistance and resources, including National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) and RAINN. You can also check out our Resources for Victims of Crime.
If you and your spouse reach an agreement in mediation, the next step will be to file the final paperwork with the court (some mediators may help with this step). Florida has official family law forms for this paperwork, including forms for your marital settlement agreement, your parenting plan, and the final judgment of dissolution of marriage.
In Florida, you generally must appear before a judge to complete your divorce. After reviewing your paperwork and settlement agreement (or consent order, in the case of court-ordered mediation of custody or child-support issues), the judge will approve the agreement if your property division seems reasonable, your parenting plan seems to be in the children's best interests, and everything else is in order. The agreement will then become part of the final divorce judgment.
You don't have to agree to anything during mediation, even if the court has ordered you to participate in the process. When court-ordered mediation isn't successful, the mediator will report to the judge that you didn't reach an agreement, without adding any comment or recommendation. If both you and your spouse consent, however, the mediator's report might identify any steps that could make a future settlement more likely. (Fla. Family Law Rules of Proc., rule 12.740 (2021).)
You'll need to proceed to a divorce trial if you haven't reached a settlement agreement either during mediation or later in the divorce process (when the settlement would typically be worked out through your lawyers). The same is true if mediation is only partially successful, meaning that it led to an agreement on some issues but not others. After a hearing, the judge will make a decision for you about any unresolved issues.