Family Law Mediation During COVID-19
When is the best time to settle a divorce case? Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, you might receive a variety of answers to that question. But in the current environment, now might be as good a time as any. With the Florida Supreme Court severely limiting in-person proceedings through at least May 29, 2020, it is safe to assume that final hearings in divorce matters will be significantly delayed. Hence, now may be a great time to engage, or re-engage, in mediation of your family law case. The pandemic does not mean your case has to remain entirely stagnant. Many people are commenting about how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on new perspectives and priorities. Maybe that is just what you and your not-yet-officially-ex or significant other need to come to an agreement.
Rule 12.740, Florida Family Law Rules governs the procedure used for family mediation in the State of Florida. Mediation in person has been the norm, particularly in family law cases. Rule 12.740(d), Florida Family Law Rules states that a party is deemed to have appeared at the scheduled mediation conference if the named party is “physically present” at the mediation conference unless all the parties agree otherwise. Counsel’s actual and physical appearance can be waived by the parties. The Florida Supreme Court has issued Orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that stated that all rules of procedure that limit or prohibit the use of communication equipment for conducting proceedings are suspended and the court suspended all “in-person” proceedings unless otherwise noted in the Order. Family mediation can be conducted by electronic means throughout the State.
Now more than ever, parties and their counsel must adapt and use alternative means to achieve their objectives. While most are testing their skills at video conferencing or various technologies, there is nothing wrong with the telephone alone. In fact, an attorney in the firm conducted a successful family mediation where the parties, counsel, and the mediator participated by telephone. And by successful we don’t just mean the mediation occurred – we mean the case settled! The mediator called the attorneys involved in the case before the mediation to insure that no party objected to the mediation being conducted by telephone. The mediator simply called one attorney who would then conference in their client. Discussions about the matter and offers to the other party were offered and then the mediator would hang up and call the other attorney who would conference in their client. Thus, the discussions between the mediator and the attorney and their respective clients remained confidential and the mediator, instead of walking between rooms were the attorneys and their clients were stationed, would simply call each attorney to negotiate the case. This case settled and the parties were satisfied with the efficiency of the process.
The current COVID-19 shut down requires attorneys, their clients and all parties involved in the process to be proactive and flexible in resolving their disputes. Mediations conducted by telephone or other electronic means is an appropriate and creative way to do so.
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About the co-authors:
Amelia H. Beard is an attorney in Clark Partington’s Santa Rosa Beach (Grayton) office. Her practice areas include civil litigation, real estate transactions, business formation, estate planning, and personal injury. Amelia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 269-8860.
Mark D. Davis has been practicing law in Walton County for over 30 years, both in private practice and as In-House counsel for the county. His practice areas include governmental affairs, real estate, probate and general litigation. Mark can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 208-7078.
About Clark Partington:
Clark Partington is the largest business focused firm in the Florida panhandle with offices in Pensacola, Destin, Grayton Beach & Tallahassee. The firm also maintains a presence in South Alabama with an Orange Beach office. Since 1976 Clark Partington has grown to over forty lawyers and has served the people and businesses of Florida through an innovative and collaborative approach to practicing law. Our lawyers are consistently recognized for their service to the profession and excellence in the courtroom. More information about the firm’s practice, its attorneys, and recognitions may be found at www.clarkpartington.com.
This publication should not be construed as legal advice. Its applicability is dependent upon specific facts and circumstances and is provided for informational purposes only. You should not act upon this information without seeking advice from a lawyer licensed in your own state.