(a)   Applicability. This rule applies to the mediation of county court matters and issues only and controls over conflicting provisions in rules 1.700, 1.710, 1.720, and 1.730.

(b)   Limitation on Referral to Mediation. When a mediation program utilizing volunteer mediators is unavailable or otherwise inappropriate, county court matters may be referred to a mediator or mediation program which charges a fee. Such order of referral shall advise the parties that they may object to mediation on grounds of financial hardship or on any ground set forth in rule 1.700(b). If a party objects, mediation shall not be conducted until the court rules on the objection. The court may consider the amount in controversy, the objecting party’s ability to pay, and any other pertinent information in determining the propriety of the referral. When appropriate, the court shall apportion mediation fees between the parties.

(c)   Scheduling. In small claims actions, the mediator shall be appointed and the mediation conference held during or immediately after the pretrial conference unless otherwise ordered by the court. In no event shall the mediation conference be held more than 14 days after the pretrial conference.

(d)   Appointment of the Mediator. In county court actions not subject to the Florida Small Claims Rules, rule 1.720(f) shall apply unless the case is sent to a mediation program provided at no cost to the parties.

(e)   Appearance at Mediation. In small claims actions, an attorney may appear on behalf of a party at mediation provided that the attorney has full authority to settle without further consultation. Unless otherwise ordered by the court, a nonlawyer representative may appear on behalf of a party to a small claims mediation if the representative has the party’s signed written authority to appear and has full authority to settle without further consultation. In either event, the party need not appear in person.

In any other county court action, a party will be deemed to appear if the persons set forth in rule 1.720(b) are physically present or, if authorized under rule 1.700(a), participating through the use of communication technology.

(f)    Agreement. Any agreements reached as a result of small claims mediation must be written in the form of a stipulation. The stipulation may be entered as an order of the court. Signatures for the stipulation may be original, electronic, or facsimile and may be in counterparts.