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FAQs

What are the benefits of dependency mediation?

Mediation reduces the adversarial nature of the dependency process and allows the participants to create common goals for themselves and for the good of the children involved.  It encourages the participants to develop child-specific plans that are more satisfactory and durable in the interest of the child than those that can be ordered by the Court or whether there should be termination of parental rights.  Mediation preserves the dignity and involvement of family members, creating less alienation in the court process.  Mediation allows parties to resolve their cases and achieve reunification with their children sooner than proceeding through the entire court process. 

What kinds of agreements can be reached in Dependency Mediation?

Parties can reach agreements in mediation on any issue related to the case, including whether an adjudication of dependency should be ordered by the court.  Typical areas of agreement include case plan tasks such as:

  • Counseling
  • Parenting classes
  • Mental health evaluations and therapy
  • Domestic violence evaluations and therapy
  • Drug and alcohol evaluations and therapy

How do cases enter into Dependency Mediation?

Disputes are often brought by the Department of Children and Families under Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes although such cases can be brought by any person with knowledge of the facts alleged.   A judge orders dependency mediation.

How does Dependency Mediation get scheduled?

Dependency mediations are typically ordered to be held by the dependency judge. The judge can order the parties in a dependency case to participate in mediation at any stage of the dependency process.  The order is often made during a court hearing, and the parties are given notice of the time, date, and place for the mediation at the same time.  Otherwise, a notice of the mediation with the time, date, and place will be mailed to each party. 

Who attends Dependency Mediation?

The order from the Court for mediation specifies who is to attend the mediation.  Every case is different and it depends on each individual situation as to who will be ordered to appear.  The participants at the mediation can include:

  • The parents of the child(ren)
  • The parents’ attorney
  • The Department of Children and Families (DCF) and their attorney
  • The Guardian ad Litem  and representatives from the Guardian Ad Litem Program
  • Foster parents
  • Family members
  • Social service providers
  • Anyone who is involved in the case

 

What if I want to attend the dependency mediation and I was not court ordered to attend?

Individuals, who are not ordered by the Court to participate in mediation, may only attend the mediation if all parties agree to allow them to be present. 

What occurs during a mediation conference?

The mediator assists with the mediation process by encouraging the parties to discuss the issues in a peaceful, courteous manner.  The parties attempt to persuade, negotiate, and compromise among each other in an attempt to reach an agreement acceptable to all.  When needed, the mediator will meet with the parties alone in separate private sessions called caucuses.  Parties may take a break to consult with their attorney in private.  The mediator helps the parties on the issues involved in the case and aides them in exploring alternatives than can be offered in the settlement process.

What happens if an agreement is reached?

When an agreement is reached in mediation, a written agreement is prepared at the conclusion of the mediation session and the parties sign the agreement.  Each party is given a copy of the signed agreement, and the original agreement is sent to the court file.  The agreement is presented to the judge at the next scheduled court hearing in the case, or at a court hearing that is scheduled for this purpose, and the judge reviews the agreement.  The judge either signs an order approving the agreement and making it a court order, or else the judge has some objection to the agreement and refuses to sign the order.  In such event, the judge and the parties discuss the matter further and either amend the agreement, or else the judge may have to set a hearing date on the issues in dispute. 

What happens if an agreement is not reached?

A majority of cases settle in mediation.  However, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement in mediation, the mediator issues a report to the Court that simply states the parties mediated but did not reach an agreement.  The case then continues on in the normal manner.

Can anything I say in Mediation be used against me?

Discussions in mediation are generally to be held confidential in accordance with the Florida Statutes, and cannot be used against a party in a later court hearing.  There are certain exceptions, however for example; any new allegations of child abuse, neglect or abandonment which are not already alleged in the petition filed in a case. 

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

The Guardian Ad Litem is a person who is assigned by the court and represents the best interest of the child in the case.