What is Family Mediation?

There are certain legal issues that have to be resolved in every case before a judge can sign off on a divorce.  Ultimately, those issues will be decided either by you via agreement, or by a judge via litigation.  These are very different paths that lead to drastically different outcomes.

Mediation utilizes the help of a family mediator to help spouses resolve their legal conflicts.

 What does a Family Mediator do?

A family mediator is a neutral third party, certified by the Supreme Court of Florida to resolve marital issues.  This means they are trained to help spouses reach settlement agreements that resolve all the legal issues that have to be resolved before a court can finalize a divorce.  Mediators must have certain credentials, including a Bachelor’s degree and at least 40 hours of specialized training.  They ought to have more credentials as well — 5 of them are essential — including being a family law attorney and being well-versed in psychology.

The mediator’s neutrality puts them in a unique position.  Mediators have the best interests of the whole family in mind.  They do not make arguments on behalf of one side versus the other in an attempt to “win” the case.  Their sole purpose is to diffuse conflict and empower the spouses to reach custom-tailored agreements that work for them.

Mediators can help you complete the right forms, navigate the laws, and understand the legal implications of the agreements you reach.  Mediators can not only discuss the law, but help you understand how the provisions in your agreement can be enforced or modified in the future.  Most importantly, the mediator can help you reach agreement on issues that you are having trouble resolving yourselves.

 Is Family Mediation right for me?

Family mediation is for people who have decided to get a divorce, but want to prevent it from getting nasty.  It is for anyone who wants to:

  1. Save time
  2. Save money
  3. Avoid the harmful effects of a contentious divorce

 How does Family Mediation help me save time?

Litigation can keep you stuck in court for years through delays, unnecessary hearings, and lengthy appeals processes.  Many trials get stuck during the wasteful process of discovery, which means arguing back and forth about what information to provide to each other.  And that is before the time and expense of arguing about the issues themselves.  Time and costs quickly add up.

Mediation is often completed in as little as one day!  By cutting out the unnecessary parts of a trial, and by eliminating or limiting the use of lawyers, things get done much more quickly.  The same issues get resolved, and the results are just as legally binding.  You could take a year to get an outcome you are stuck with, or you could take a single day and write an agreement that works a lot better for everyone involved.

 How does it help me save money?

Mediation is cheaper because its faster and more efficient than going to trial.  Rather than paying two attorneys to go back and forth with each other, you can pay one mediator to move your issues towards resolution.  This helps you save money for what matters the most in life: your family.

 How is Family Mediation different from litigation?

Family Mediation can get you through the process of divorce quickly and without any unnecessary or wasteful expenses.  It allows you to keep control of your life in your own hands, and figure out how to resolve your issues in a way that you consider fair.  People are more likely to follow an agreement they had a hand in creating than one imposed on them by a judge.

Litigation, on the other hand, is the origin of every horror story you have ever heard about divorce.  Here’s one more:

I was discussing with a colleague his own divorce 20 years prior.  He is a mentor to many in the mediation world but does not have a legal background.  He said he introduced financial documents to the judge that disclosed his income.  The judge remarked that the income amount “seemed suspicious” and awarded alimony and child support based on a much higher amount of income.  My colleague’s questions for me included,  “Suspicious?  What the hell does that even mean?” and “Can he do that?  With no evidence?”  Many forum sites are filled with personal accounts that get even worse.  My advice is that you don’t ever want to become the person who is still upset by the lack of fairness in a divorce process that occurred over 20 years ago.  Choose a better process and be much happier with the outcome.

 Does the mediator represent both sides?

The Mediator does not represent either side.  That means he does not give “legal advice” to either spouse, and does not help one side “strategize” against the other.  But mediators with the right credentials can discuss the law extensively with each of you, and can show you how some questions have clear answers according to the Florida Statutes.  Get a straight answer when the law is clear, and reach creative solutions for everything else.

 Should I call a lawyer first?

Your first call should always be to a family mediator who can help you decide whether you want to use a lawyer at all.  The usage of lawyers can be limited to reviewing the agreement you create before signing it.  Or you can have an attorney with you during the mediation so they can do all the talking.  Fair & Friendly Mediation has a network of legal, financial, and psychological experts that we can direct you to if you decide any of their services would be useful.

 What makes divorces go bad, and how can I stop that from happening to me?

1. Lawyers get in your way:

The worst divorces are the ones where people get “stuck”.  Stuck means remaining in perpetual conflict with your spouse, and having your divorce turn into a court case that is expensive, time-consuming, and harmful to everyone involved.  Litigation creates tension and resentment which can linger for a lifetime, and many parents find it next to impossible to keep their children safe from the harmful effects of this conflict.  Litigation is always the most profitable process for the attorney.  Don’t let them get you stuck.

2. You get in your own way:

The ego is the most insidious foe you will encounter because its invisible.  The ego will sneak its way into every process, every communication between spouses, and every negotiation aimed at keeping the peace.  It is a continuous process to keep an even keel, remember what you want to accomplish and why, and keep that ego from distracting you and taking you off-course.

The real enemy in any divorce is the instinct to fight – the powerful allure of making that hurtful statement you know you shouldn’t make, but feels so good in the moment.  When anyone feels trapped or backed into a corner, the easy response is to call the most expensive attorney you can find and go to war against your spouse.  The people and processes that truly help you are the ones that pre-empt conflict, diffuse it before it gets out of control, and then manage it when it inevitably rears its head.  Calling a family mediator will help you find your best option.

 Why not let a judge decide everything?

Judges do the best they can given their area of expertise and the structural constraints of the adversarial system.  But if you encounter a judge, you have taken a wrong turn on your journey.  Here is why:

1. Judges do not have time for you.  Some people anticipate getting their “day in court” where an authority figure, the judge, will take the time to listen to them tell their side of the story.  Next, as the fantasy goes, the judge will see “the truth” and will agree with you and tell you that you are right and the other side is wrong, and then give you lots of money and anything else you asked for.  The fact is that judges hear dozens of divorce cases every week—they have very busy dockets where they need to hear and make decisions on countless motions brought before them in various family law cases.  Any judge will tell you that their main focus, their highest priority in the job they do, is to get all the way through that docket.  The time to be heard is in an out-of-court settlement process.  Only in a mediation will you be given all the time you need to explain your thoughts and wants, and to incorporate those into a personalized agreement that works for you.

2. Family court judges do not specialize in family law!  The state of Florida requires judges to rotate into and out of family law from other areas such as criminal law, civil tort law, corporate law, and other unrelated fields.  When cases get to litigation, decisions are handed down by a judge whose interests and career aspirations had nothing to do with family law.  While that doesn’t mean the judges won’t be fair, it would make me question how much attention they’re going to want to pay to the issues that are most important to me.

3. Control of your life belongs in your own hands.  When it comes to decisions that affect your family, such as the time you spend with your children, the amount of financial support you need, and the division of your things, the ones who are in the best position to make those decisions are you.  Decisions imposed on you by a judge may appear arbitrary or unfair, and bad decisions leave you little recourse other than more years of fighting through an appeals process.  Not only are agreements crafted by the parties more likely to be effective in meeting their needs, but the agreements are also more likely to be followed when both spouses had a hand in creating it themselves.

 How is a “Fair & Friendly” Mediation unique?

Our process sets us apart:

In a Fair & Friendly mediation, initial consultations are free. Follow-up phone calls, e-mails, time the mediator spends preparing for your mediation including legal research and strategizing their approach are all free.  You pay one professional, and only for the time spent during the mediation.

Our method is a unique combination of legal knowledge, management of emotions during the divorce process, and negotiation techniques borrowed from a variety of other disciplines.

Our qualifications set us apart:

We have extensive academic qualifications and a skill set that draws from experience.  Founder of Fair & Friendly Mediation, Joshua Kraus Esq. is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and a family law attorney licensed and in good standing with the Florida Bar.  His academic credentials include:

  1. A J.D from Emory School of Law
  2. An M.B.A from the University of Miami
  3. A Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts

Josh also speaks from the unique perspective of someone whose parents divorced shortly after he was born.  Successful mediations hold a special satisfaction for us, as we know how bad things could have gotten had the spouses chosen a different path.

 What is our pricing?

We have a competitive hourly rate, which is flexible based on need.  We understand divorce can put pressure on people’s finances, and clients can be reassured that they are getting the fastest and cheapest possible method of getting a divorce.

We are not motivated to get every last dollar out of a case.  We want to help the largest number of people possible, and our rates reflect that.  Please contact us for further details.

 What is our availability?

We are available nights and weekends in addition to regular business hours. Clients often have rigid work schedules, so we do our best to accommodate them.

 Where are we located?

We prefer to use the informal environment of a conference room located at 1721 Southeast 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  We also have a more formal office setting available on Las Olas Blvd.

 Do we offer online mediation?

Yes, we offer online mediation via Zoom or Skype.  This is a great option if you:

  1. Have already relocated to another state or face a long commute
  2. Do not have the time in your schedule for a mediation
  3. Are not comfortable being in the same room as your spouse, or
  4. Simply prefer to negotiate from the comfort of your own home

All of the rules regarding confidentiality apply just the same to online communications.  Documents can be signed and even notarized online before being e-filed with the court.

 Is mediation just for easy cases?

Mediation is not just for easy cases —  some of the hardest cases could only have been resolved in the non-adversarial setting that mediation provides.  Your best shot at resolving issues peacefully is through a peaceful process.

There are 4 main reasons why even in difficult cases, mediation is worth a shot:

  1. Someone with a difficult personality may respond favorably to the mediator
  2. The couple might resolve some, if not all legal issues, which narrows the scope of a trial and saves what could be considerable expenses
  3. The use of mediation does not preclude the use of other options in the future, such as Collaborative Divorce
  4. It might be meaningful to know that you tried to resolve things amicably.  Even if the mediation does not result in a settlement, both of you will know that you are willing to try, and that might be enough to keep the door open to settlement discussions in the future

 What is “Collaborative Divorce”?

If mediation sounds like it might be too difficult without the use of an attorney, or if your case involves financial complexity, you might benefit from using a “collaborative divorce” process.

“Collaborative” divorce is a noun, not an adjective.  It does not mean cooperative or amicable.  It is a specific process that is governed by the Florida Statutes and includes the use of an attorney on each side, and also a mental health professional, who facilitates group discussions.

By requiring a team of at least 3 professionals – or more if using a financial expert — at a series of meetings, the pricing of a collaborative divorce can get out of hand pretty quickly.  Collaborative law is an effective process, but not very efficient.  At $1,000/hr or more, it is often more expensive than necessary.  One of the important benefits of mediation is that it is more flexible – the spouses can use attorneys if they choose, but are not obligated to have one on each side.

Many collaborative attorney practitioners call themselves “reformed sharks” because they used to do litigation before finding a better process.  Many attorneys become disillusioned with their litigation practice as they realize they are doing more harm to their clients than good.  One prominent (former) litigation attorney told me that she knew it was time to change her practice “when winning a case made me feel worse than losing one.”  Collaborative attorneys have seen divorce cases at their worst, and they can use that experience to encourage spouses to reach settlements out of court.  Fair & Friendly Mediation does offer collaborative law services, and has had success with this method in the past.

 What if I just need help with the paperwork?

If you have few or no legal issues to resolve, we can help you complete the forms the right way, and understand the legal implications of everything you sign.  You will not waste money buying packets of forms you do not need, and will not make mistakes on the forms and end up arguing about it in court.

 How do I select a family mediator?

Make sure you know the qualifications you want your family mediator to have before you search.  5 qualifications are essential.

You can also use a directory such as the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, located at: https://apfmnet.org/find-a-mediator/.

 How did Fair & Friendly Mediation begin?

Fair & Friendly Mediation is a company that grew out of a desire to really help people through one of the most important and difficult moments of their lives.  It started when its founder, Joshua Kraus, Esq. noticed that many couples were getting divorced in ways that had destructive effects on themselves and their families.  The fundamental question he asked was: What is it that divorcing couples need, and why are they not getting it?.  The answer led to identifying that most time spent in litigation was not only expensive, but not really offering the clients anything of value.

If a messy divorce can have harmful implications that cycle through the generations of a family, then a divorce that is done the right way can have the equal and opposite effect.  Our goal is to make sure people know that there is a better process available to them.  Mediation is often successful, and it is always worth a shot.

 Where can I find out more about Fair & Friendly Mediation?

Please visit www.fairandfriendlymediation.com for more information.