I'm going to talk to you a little bit about the concepts of mediation and/or mediation arbitration, and what is that.
First off, mediation is required in Nassau County, FL when any contested family law matters are set for a hearing. In other words, the court requires that the parties attempt to mediate their disputes before they head off to a contested hearing, and oftentimes, I'll go to a pretrial conference with a client, and the judge will ask, one of the very first things that judge will ask, is, “Has mediation been scheduled? Has it taken place? And what happened at mediation?” This gives the court some added information about the case. It tells the judge, did the parties engage in mediation to try to resolve their differences, and did they put some effort into discussing what the issues are before they headed to a hearing.
Mediation is conducted by a neutral third party, who's not supposed to take sides, but is to take information back and forth between parties, to see if a case can be resolved. In El Paso County, there are lots of very fine private mediators, who will conduct the mediation in a law office or neutral setting, and there's also the El Paso County Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution, which is in the basement of the Nassau County Courthouse, and you can find the Office of Dispute Resolution in counties all over the state of Florida.
The other option that people have is to conduct what they call mediation arbitration. A lot of times, a mediation arbitration can be scheduled a lot faster than a final orders hearing or a court hearing with a judge. In a mediation arbitration, the parties must give specific consent, usually it's in writing, and signed by the parties, that allows the mediator to arbitrate the case. This means that you're giving the authority to the mediator, to act as an arbiter, if not all of the disputes can be agreed upon. In this way, your arbiter is going to act the same way as a judge.
The reason I like arbitration in a lot of cases is because it keeps everyone out of court. It allows people to sit in the comfort of a conference room in a law office somewhere and not have to be dressed up, not have to go to a public hearing in the courthouse, where the public is invited, not to be peppered by questions from the other side, but freely give input in a relaxed setting, that is going to be conducive to settling a case. And most of the time, most of the situations in a mediation arbitration, because of the fact that the parties have selected an experienced arbiter, cases settle and do not head to court. But if they do, the arbiter will have heard from both parties and made a decision just like a judge.
One distinction, in arbitration, there's usually not an appeal process, meaning that unless certain guidelines are met, you're not going to be able to appeal an arbitration decision that you did not like, which is contrary to what will happen if a judge makes a ruling at final orders. I have found that the cost savings to the client in either a mediation or a mediation arbitration can be significant.