Parenting Coordination and Family Mediation are both methods of dispute resolution designed to help parties resolve issues related to their divorce outside of court instead of having the judge make these decisions for parties. The goal of both methods is to encourage parties to consider their own needs and interests and enable them to make their own decisions by mutual agreement. By using such non-adversarial methods, Family Mediators and Parenting Coordinators work to help parties maintain a constructive working relationship and reduce the emotional and financial stress of divorce litigation.
Under Florida law, parties are permitted to choose either or both methods to resolve disputes. While similar in many ways, there are also major differences between the two.
Generally Parenting Coordination is reserved for high conflict divorcing couples with children, and the Parenting Coordinator focuses on reducing parental conflict and getting the divorcing couple to reduce the stress upon their children. Family Mediation, on the other hand, is designed to help all divorcing couples resolve any outstanding financial and/or parenting issues in dispute. More differences are described below.
1. Definition of the Process
Mediation is “…a process whereby a neutral third person called a mediator acts to encourage and facilitate the resolution of a dispute between two or more parties. It is an informal and nonadversarial process with the objective of helping the disputing parties reach a mutually acceptable and voluntary agreement. In mediation, decision-making authority rests with the parties…” [Florida Statute 44.1011(2)]
Parenting Coordination is “…a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process whereby a parenting coordinator assists the parents in creating or implementing a parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of disputes between the parents by providing education, making recommendations, and, with the prior approval of the parents and the court, making limited decisions within the scope of the court’s order of referral.” Florida Statute 61.125(1)
2. Self Determination
Mediation: In mediation, the parties are the ultimate decision makers and the mediator is prohibited from making decisions for the parties. [Rule for Certified and Court Appointed Mediators 10.310]
Parenting Coordination: While the parenting coordinator sometimes facilitates negotiation like a mediator, a parenting coordinator can serve in other capacities as well including, with party and court consent, serving as an arbitrator and making certain non-substantive decisions for the parties as well as making recommendations to the court concerning modifications to the parenting plan or time‐sharing. [Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure 12.742(i)(1)]
3. Role of Lawyers
Mediation: While hiring an attorney to help negotiate and/or review legal documents can be invaluable, parties are free to engage in mediation without being required to hire an attorney. If they do hire attorneys, their attorneys may participate in mediation along with the party. Parties may also elect to attend mediation without their attorneys, but later review potential agreements with their attorneys prior signing a mediated settlement agreement.
Parenting Coordination: Generally, parties do not have attorneys participate in meetings with parenting coordinator. Attorneys are able to communicate with the parenting coordinator and can play a helpful role, but generally attorneys are not involved more directly. Often attorneys will communicate with the parenting coordinator at the start of the process and perhaps as the parenting coordination process continues, but the parent generally attends the parenting coordination sessions without the attorney in attendance.
Mediation: Parties who are court referred to mediation or who use a Florida Supreme Court certified mediator are assured that their mediation communications cannot be disclosed to the judge or anyone who didn’t participate in the mediation other than a party’s attorney, unless the communication falls under an exception to Florida Mediation Confidentiality and Privilege Act. [Florida Statutes 44.401 – 44.406]
Parenting Coordination: Generally, all communications made by, between, or among the parties and the parenting coordinator during parenting coordination sessions are confidential. The parenting coordinator and each party designated in the order appointing the coordinator may not testify or offer evidence about communications made by, between, or among the parties and the parenting coordinator during parenting coordination sessions. However there are many exceptions. [Florida Statute 61.125(7)]
5. Training Standards and Certification
Mediation: Florida Supreme Court certified Family Mediators must have 1) successfully completed a forty-hour Florida Supreme Court approved family mediation certification training, 2) have a Master’s Degree or higher* (such as a JD, PhD, MD, EdD, etc.), 3) observe or co-mediate a prescribed number of family mediation cases with a Florida Supreme Court certified Family Mediator, and 4) have good moral character. [Florida Rules for Certified and Court-Appointed Mediators 10.100 - 10.130]
Parenting Coordination: Qualified parenting coordinators must be 1) licensed as a mental health professional, a psychiatrist,* a certified Florida Supreme Court family law mediator with at least a master’s degree in a mental health field, or a Florida licensed attorney who has completed three years of post-licensure or post-certification practice; 2) successfully complete a Florida Supreme Court approved family mediation training program; and 3) successfully complete a Florida approved parenting coordination course. [Florida Statute 61.125(4)]
6. Florida Standards of Professional Conduct
Mediation: The Florida Supreme Court has adopted Rules for Certified and Court Appointed Mediators that includes Standards of Professional Conduct for mediators and a disciplinary process for hearing complaints against mediators.
Parenting Coordination: The Florida Supreme Court has adopted Rules for Qualified & Court-Appointed Parenting Coordinators that includes Standards for Parenting Coordinators and a process for hearing complaints against Parenting Coordinators.
*In some situations, the advanced educational degree requirement may be waived for Individuals who possess a bachelor’s degree and have mediated 100 cases within five years or have obtained a graduate certificate in conflict resolution.
** Be licensed as a physician under chapter 458 with certification by the American Board of Psychiatry
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