At some point in a family law proceeding (divorce/paternity action), the Court will most likely order the parties to attend mediation. Mediation is a process for resolving disputes that allows parties, with the help of a mediator, to come to an agreement on contested issues. It is important to do your homework prior to the mediation session in order to increase the likelihood of reaching a full and complete agreement which resolves all pending issues in a family law case. This homework should include the following:
(1) Educate yourself. Although the mediator will inform you of the mediation process on the day of mediation, it is important that you speak with your attorney about what you can expect well in advance of the scheduled mediation so you can be informed and prepared to enter into an agreement on the day of mediation. Our firm automatically will schedule an appointment for you to discuss strategy and expectations for mediation.
(2) Exchange mandatory disclosure/complete discovery. Pursuant to Florida Family Law Rules, you and the other spouse are required to exchange mandatory disclosure which is a list of documents (deeds, bank account statements, credit card statements, retirement account statements, etc.) relating to any and all your assets and debts. Disclosing and receiving this discovery is crucial in every case to guarantee that you are aware of all of the necessary information and are able to make an informed decision and reach a fair and equitable agreement in the case.
(3) Prepare a list of the issues/concerns. Make a list of all of the issues that are pending in your case and that you would like to resolve at mediation. In order to make sure you do not miss an issue, ask yourself what relief are you seeking from the Court. For example, in a dissolution of marriage action involving children, an outline of the issues with may be as follows:
a. Parenting Responsibility/Timesharing.
b. Division of Marital Assets and Liabilities.
d. Child Support.
e. Attorney's Fees and Costs. Are you (or the other party) asking for contribution towards your/their attorney's fees?
The above list of issues is not intended to apply to every dissolution of marriage case. Each case is fact specific and therefore, there may be additional issues/concerns to address depending on the facts of the case.
(4) Prepare a proposed Parenting Plan. In every family law case involving children, either the parties through an agreement or the Court will develop a parenting plan which will sets forth a timesharing schedule as to week and weekend timesharing as well as holiday timesharing. The parenting plan also addresses parental responsibility (decision-making), transportation, travel, extra-curricular activities, and other issues relating to the children. Prior to mediation, you should complete a proposed parenting plan. Your attorney will assist you in this process. At mediation, the mediator will ask you if you have a proposed parenting plan. Bringing this proposed parenting plan saves a lot of time and increases the likelihood you will be able to reach an agreement as to parenting/timesharing issues within the allotted time at mediation.
(5) Prepare a proposed worksheet which divides the marital assets and debts. In every dissolution of marriage case, either the parties through an agreement or the Court will divide the marital assets and liabilities. Prior to mediation, you should complete a proposed division of marital assets and debts worksheet. This worksheet should reflect a fair and equitable distribution of the assets acquired and debts incurred during the marriage. It should provide who will get what asset and who will pay for what debt. Your attorney will assist you in this process. You can provide the mediator with your proposed worksheet. This also saves a lot of time and increases the likelihood you will be able to reach an agreement as to the division of assets and debts issues within the allotted time at mediation.
(6) Prepare a budget. If either party is seeking alimony, it is important that you prepare a budget which reflects your monthly income as well as your household and living expenses. It should also show whether you have a monthly surplus or deficit. Further, you should be informed as to the type and amount of alimony, how long this alimony will last, and how this alimony will be paid if agreed to or awarded by the Court.
(7) Prepare proposed Florida Child Support Guidelines Worksheet(s). How much will child support be? If you have an attorney, then your attorney will prepare a proposed Florida Child Support Guidelines Worksheet(s), which will reflect what the payor parent's child support obligation will be, prior to mediation. You should also tell your attorney how much life and/or health insurance for the children will or should be provided by either or both parents as well as who will pay for uncovered medical and/or dental expenses. Make sure your Tampa Bay attorney has updated fee and cost numbers to negotiate the issues properly.
At the end of the day, it takes two to reach an agreement. However, if you complete your homework and are informed going into mediation, you will increase the likelihood of reaching a fair and equitable agreement at mediation. If you do not reach an agreement, all hope is not lost. You can always reach settlement afterwards or at the very least, you will be much more informed and educated and can use the information you gathered and received prior to mediation in preparing for trial.