In the past, most people assumed that the process of getting divorced, in the absence of complete agreement by both spouses on all the issues, involved a trial before a judge. Today, alternative dispute resolution is more popular than ever, and that includes resolving divorce cases. Even if you’re not going before a judge, that doesn’t mean you don’t need good legal advice from a skilled attorney. Your knowledgeable Florida divorce attorney can help ensure you are choosing the best path for you, and help you make that best choice before you agree to anything binding.
Forty years ago this year, The People’s Court debuted on TV. If you’re familiar with the genre, you know that there are other similar shows on TV, such as Judge Judy and Divorce Court, the latter of which is the only reality courtroom show that is longer-running than The People’s Court.
You may be, at this point, asking yourself, “OK, but what do reality courtroom shows have to do with alternative dispute resolution?” As it turns out, a lot. These shows are actually a type of alternative dispute resolution. When the two opposing parties appear in TV “court,” the “judge” is actually serving as an arbitrator and the “trial” is binding arbitration. So, what happens if you’ve finished your binding arbitration but you think you didn’t get a fair outcome? An actual court case from Indian River County gives us a clearer picture.
In that case, L.L. and J.G. were two Floridians locked in a small claims dispute related to the sale of a 1997 Mercedes. The pair agreed to resolve their case on The People’s Court, which was presided over by Marilyn Milian, a retired Circuit Court Judge from Miami-Dade County. After the show’s conclusion, a stipulation of settlement was filed and the buyer’s court case was dismissed. Unhappy with the procedure the TV show used to carry out the arbitration, the buyer filed an action in Indian River County to get the settlement set aside.
She lost. The trial court decided (and the appeals court agreed) that there was no legally valid basis for overturning the settlement the parties reached through their TV arbitration.
While this case dealt with a TV arbitration of a car purchase dispute, the concepts used to decide the buyer’s case would be largely the same as what a Florida court would use if you were trying to set aside your marital settlement reached on a TV courtroom show dedicated to divorce… or reached through any valid form of binding arbitration.
There are actually only a few ways this buyer could have won. If she had convinced the county judge that there had been a mistake, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, or fraud, then she would have had a chance of success. Simply experiencing dissatisfaction in hindsight with the procedure the arbitration tribunal used generally isn’t a valid basis.
Know before you go
Before you agree to anything, you should make sure you understand what process you’re agreeing to. For example, it is very important to recognize the difference between mediation and arbitration, and avoid getting the two confused.
Mediation is a process where you and your spouse appear before a neutral third party. Each of you lays out what you want to achieve in your divorce. After that, the mediator tries to work collaboratively with both of you to find a solution that both you and your spouse can live with. The mediator is there to foster an agreement between the two of you, and does not render any kind of “decision.”
Arbitration is different. There, the arbitrator does render a decision and, if you agreed to make your arbitration binding, then you are obliged to live up to that decision just as if it was an order of the court.
Whether or not appearing on Divorce Court is an option, choosing a mediation option – or deciding whether to use any such option at all – is a serious decision and should not be made lightly. Before you decide, make sure you have the knowledge and the personalized advice you need. Do you have questions? We have answers! Contact the skilled Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. We’ve been helping Florida spouses and partners for many years, and are here to give you and your family the help you need. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.