Alternative Ways to Decide Child Custody in Florida

It's a common misconception that all parental responsibility (aka custody) cases resolve with a trial in a courtroom.

In fact, the majority of cases are decided via one of the alternative methods below.

If you want to avoid a trial that strains you and your children, try to reach a settlement using one of the first three methods.

If you're unable to settle, you might turn to the last method for a quicker ruling.

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Mediation is a very popular dispute-resolution method. Mediators help parties find common ground and compromise.

Many parents turn voluntarily to a mediator before going to court. When they reach an agreement, they make it enforceable through a pre-suit settlement, meaning they submit the document to the court at the same time that they open a case.

When mediation is voluntary, parents must agree on their mediator. Some seek out specialized approaches, such as religious or LGBTQ mediation.

Fees for private mediators in Florida range from $150 to $600 per hour, and parents can decide how to split the costs with the mediator's help.

Parents who open a court case without an agreement must attend court-ordered mediation. The process differs slightly from that of voluntary mediation; deadlines come into play, and mediators are sometimes provided by the court for a reduced fee.

Collaborative law

In collaborative law, each parent is represented by a lawyer, but they commit to settle and avoid trial. This is often considered a halfway point between mediation and litigation.

The collaborative law process focuses on effective dispute resolution rather than traditional attorney negotiations. It's more comprehensive than mediation because a team of experts helps parents find solutions and develop a plan for implementing the eventual agreement.

A collaborative team includes each parent's lawyer, a neutral facilitator, a mediator, a parenting coordinator and a financial expert. It may also include child development specialists, mental health professionals and religious advisers.

Due to all the people involved, collaborative law can be expensive. But it's usually cheaper than hiring a lawyer for trial.

Everyone involved, including parents, must sign an agreement committing to cooperation, honesty and integrity. If a settlement isn't reached and the case goes to court, the collaborative lawyers must withdraw.

Parents — sometimes together and sometimes separately — meet with the team over six months to a year. Like in mediation, proceedings are confidential.

Often, the process begins before parents open a case, but cases that have already been filed can also use collaborative law.

Informal negotiation

Parents who can communicate and compromise without professional help may be able to negotiate an agreement on their own.

If parents only manage to reach consensus on certain items, they can hire lawyers to help them negotiate the unresolved issues (called limited scope representation).

Always have a legal professional review your paperwork before you file.

Private judging

Florida is one of few states that allow private judging in family law cases. Also called voluntary trial resolution or private trial, this option has parents hire an experienced lawyer or a retired public judge to decide their case.

The private judge holds hearings and issues temporary orders and final judgments that are immediately enforceable. The trial and court process remain the same.

Private judges tend to have flexible schedules, so hiring one can lead to faster case resolution. They can also give more personalized attention to your case.

Private judges typically charge between $500 and $800 per hour, and most require litigants to have lawyers.

In certain circumstances, the law may not permit private judging. Consult with your attorney if you think private judging is an option for you.

Preparing for alternative dispute resolution

Preparation is as important when you decide parental responsibility through an alternative method as when you decide it in a courtroom.

You still want to present convincing information — but to the other parent or a private judge rather than to the court.

A proposed parenting plan with a time-sharing schedule presents your argument persuasively. You may also want to present messages exchanged with the other parent, a log of important interactions with the other parent, your children's expenses, and more.

The Custody X Change online app lets you create all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, customizable time-sharing calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, a parenting journal and an expense tracker, Custody X Change prepares you for any method of deciding parental responsibility in Florida.

It empowers you to get what's best for your children.

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