Summer Child Custody Dispute: When to Seek Mediation

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on July 13, 2018 6:00 AM


As any parent knows, summer can be a hot topic. And not just the weather.

Come June, when the kids are out of school, the real heat begins. The workable child custody agreement that separated parents have put together during the school year flies out the window, and the bummer of summer begins. If a child custody dispute arises, you may be wondering, when should you seek mediation?

How Can I Turn Down the Heat?

If you are feeling this way, you aren't alone. What can you do? That's a complicated question. If there is already a court-ordered custody agreement in place, parents have to stick to it until it is officially modified. To modify, parents either have to work it out between themselves, or seek legal advice in the form of mediation or a divorce attorney to modify the existing custody agreement.

The easiest, quickest, and cheapest way to handle a summer child custody dispute is to have the parents work together to find a solution. Open communication is key, and the earlier the better. If you foresee a scheduling conflict or are planning a summer vacation, contact the other parent as early as possible to find a solution that works for both of you.

What If This Is Too Hot Too Handle Alone?

Do you feel this is easier said than done? You may want to hire a mediatorto help devise a solution. When should you seek a mediator? It may be a good idea if any of the following applies:

  • If you have issues speaking with your ex, a mediator can always help. Mediators are lawyers who are trained to find a solution that is amendable and fair to both sides. They understand that you may not be able to be in the same room with your ex, and are usually quite comfortable speaking with each separately. Mediators can devise a solution without either party ever having to even see one another.
  • If you want to modify a custody agreement on a trial-basis, and are not ready to make it part of the official custody agreement, mediators can help with that too. Unlike court orders, mediator recommendations are not binding and often not admissible in court, which means that parents may feel a little more comfortable trying out mediator solutions.
  • If you need a solution right away, a mediator can help much quicker than courts. As stated, until there is an agreed upon modification in place, parents must stick to the original agreement or risk legal ramifications. A court ordered modification can take months (maybe years!) to obtain. But a mediator may be able to hammer out an agreement in a week.
  • If you need to find a cost-effective solution, hiring one mediator is almost always cheaper than two litigating attorneys. Mediators work on behalf of both parents, so only one needs to be hired. And since mediators are attorneys, if both parents end up liking the new agreement, the mediator can file the agreement with the courts to be part of the permanent custody agreement going forward in future months.

Summer can be a fantastic time with your kids. Keep in mind, once they turn 18, those summers together could be over. Make the most out of each and every summer with your kids by planning early and often with your ex. If you need any help settling a custody dispute, contact a mediator today to see if he or she can settle the dispute quickly, cheaply, and relatively peacefully.

The Pros and Cons of an Uncontested Divorce

Ending a marriage is never a simple process. However, it can be simpler in some situations when the spouses are able to remain civil and agree between themselves how to divide the marital assets, deal with custody and support issues, and handle any other matters. Also known as an uncontested divorce, it may be hard for divorcing couples to accomplish in many instances, but the benefits can be great under the right circumstances.

The Pros

Uncontested divorce offers divorcing spouses the chance to end their marriage quietly and with dignity. 
The most obvious advantage of an uncontested divorce is its cost. An uncontested divorce that stays uncontested is almost always the least expensive way of getting divorced. The low cost is not, however, the only advantage of uncontested divorce. If the level of conflict between the two spouses remains low, an uncontested divorce offers a way to keep it that way. It is more private, more cooperative, and likely to keep more of your assets in each of your pockets and out of the hands of lawyers, accountants, process servers, and others required to put on a full divorce proceeding.

The Cons

Uncontested divorce is a bad idea when one spouse is beating up on the other. If there is a history of domestic violence, emotional abuse, or some other disparity in power in the relationship, it almost always leads to one spouse having an unfair advantage over the other. That disadvantaged spouse probably needs an attorney to advocate for them in a difficult situation. 

Uncontested divorce is also a bad idea when the parties are not able to talk with each other without fighting. If your spouse refuses to have any discussion with you about divorce, or every conversation ends in a screaming match, but you are determined to move forward with divorcing, you will likely need to move forward with a contested divorce and probably should hire an attorney. Similarly, if one or both of you are vested in keeping certain items of property or taking a larger share of the marital assets, then this could lead to an intractable disagreement that may not be easily resolved in an uncontested divorce proceeding.

Finally, uncontested divorces are a bad idea if you and your spouse are not comfortable with the law or do not believe you can work through the paperwork on your own. Uncontested divorces are relatively straightforward, but still require you to read and understand a number of different forms which will probably include fairly in-depth financial disclosures by each party. If this idea is intimidating, it may be wise to contact an attorney to assist with the process. 

How It Works

The first thing you need to know about uncontested divorce is that you can do it alone or with the assistance of a divorce attorney. If you use an attorney, the attorney you get to do your uncontested divorce cannot represent both of you. Because each spouse will have their own unique interests, the ethical principles for lawyers will require that a lawyer represent only one of the parties, not both of them. The lawyer must represent one of you and not the other. The lawyer will need to know at the outset which of you is his or her client and which of you is not.

Generally, every jurisdiction will require you to prepare similar documents to initiate a divorce: a petition for divorce, documents proving both parties are aware of and participating in the case, financial affidavits disclosing everything each spouse has, a settlement agreement, and a proposed judgment. Some jurisdictions may also require you to attend couples' therapy prior to granting the divorce.

After you produce the documents, and both spouses are satisfied with the papers, you sign and file them. In some jurisdictions that is it; your case will be handled based on the paperwork and you will receive your divorce judgment in the mail. In other jurisdictions, you are required to attend a hearing with your spouse to swear that everything in the divorce paperwork is true and correct and that you were not pressured into signing it.

How Much It Costs

The prices for uncontested divorces vary widely. At a minimum you will have court filing fees. Additionally, you may have attorney fees if you require assistance with your paperwork. Still, at the end of the day, you will likely have fees of less than $2,000, even with an attorney.  Every competent divorce attorney should offer some kind of uncontested divorce services package.  You should always discuss your matter with a competent divorce attorney to determine whether you are actually a candidate for uncontested divorce.

Florida Becomes a Collaborative Divorce State

Florida has enacted HB 967, which is entitled “Collaborative Law Process Act,” into law on March 24, 2016. In doing so, Florida joins an increasing number of states who already have enacted legislation permitting collaborative divorces. 

Defining Collaborative Divorce

The collaborative divorce process is a form of alternative dispute resolution by which parties attempt to resolve all issues in their divorce outside of the courtroom. Each party must agree to the process, and each party has his or her own attorney, whose goal also is to reach an individualized agreement that meets the family’s needs. A team of professionals is assembled during a collaborative divorce, including a mental health professional or counselor, as well as a financial professional. The counselor will facilitate the discussions between the parties and engage the rest of the team as needed to help resolve any outstanding issues.

Collaborative Divorce and Confidentiality

At the beginning of a collaborative divorce, the parties and their attorneys enter into an agreement to participate in the process. Part of this agreement establishes a sort of privilege, which provides that the parties cannot disclose the negotiations that occurred during the collaborative divorce process, except under very limited circumstances. The attorneys who participate in the collaborative divorce also are restricted from acting as anything other than settlement counsel. In other words, they are prohibited from doing research or preparing for a court hearing in your case. These restrictions prevent those attorneys from later representing the parties in court if they fail to completely resolve their divorce through the collaborative process.

Elements of Collaborative Divorce

Most divorces center on decisions about children and money. With the help of a counselor or other facilitator, you can work with your ex to create a comprehensive parenting plan that best meets your family’s needs. From which school the children will attend to whom is responsible for providing child care during summer break, your parenting plan has to address all concerns that you have about your children and devise a way that both parents can share in everyday parenting aspects. With respect to deciding financial issues during a collaborative divorce, a financial planner or accountant is part of your team. This individual can help you work through dividing up property and debts, as well as establishing child support and spousal support, in a manner that protects the financial security of both spouses to the greatest extent possible.

Get the Professional Legal Advice That You Need in Your Divorce Proceedings

If you are considering divorce or separation from your spouse in the state of Florida, you need to explore all of the options that are available to you, including the possibility of going through the collaborative divorce process. An experienced family law attorney can guide you through the options for dissolving your marriage and help you make the decisions that are best for you and your family.

Courtesy of H.G.org