What Is Child Custody Mediation?
When parents divorce or legally separate, the issue of child custody is often the most contested aspect of the whole process. Both individuals want their child in their lives, which can make coming to an agreement on custody and visitation difficult. This is where child custody mediation can assist parents in coming to an agreement both parties find acceptable. Mediation occurs when the couple hires a neutral third party, called a mediator, to aid them in discussing and resolving outstanding child custody issues. A mediator is usually an experienced family law attorney who has specialized in mediation. Mediators are different from judges and arbitrators in that they don’t make decisions about child custody but instead make suggestions based on the couple’s situation in order to assist them in reaching their own mutual agreement.
Advantages of Child Custody Mediation
There are many benefits of choosing mediation over going to court in a child custody case. These benefits include the following:
- A Neutral Third Party – A child custody mediator is a professional who is not invested in one side over the other. Their focus is on helping both parties reach a fair and equitable agreement.
- Quicker Results – Child custody mediation is a much faster, less time consuming process than going to court. Mediation can last only a few weeks, while a trial can take months or even years.
- Non-Adversarial Approach – Mediation is a less contentious method of hashing out a couple’s problems than a court case is. This less threatening atmosphere makes accepting concessions and coming to an agreement much easier and less painful. This can also set a much better tone for the couple’s relationship going forward.
- Cannot Be Used Against You – In court custody battles, anything you say can be used against you as evidence. This can stifle discussion and make coming to an agreement almost impossible without court intervention. With child custody mediation you generally do not have to worry about anything you do or say being used against you.
- Less Expensive – Not only is mediation less time consuming than court, it is also less expensive as a result.
- Less Stressful on Children – Mediation being a quicker and less contentious process than a custody battle can also protect your child from unnecessary stress and pain.
- Control – In a custody battle, a judge or arbitrator will often have the final say on all aspects of custody. With mediation, you and your spouse will have full control over the outcome, which can lead to a better resolution for both of you.
Remember, the mediator is not there to make judgments. They are there to help resolve issues fairly and amicably if at all possible.
Understanding the Child Custody Mediation Process
Whether the mediation is voluntary or court ordered, the steps are basically the same. There are five general steps the child custody mediation process will follow:
- Preparing for mediation
- Initial meeting with the mediator
- Identifying and organizing the issues that need to be resolved
- Discussing solutions to the aforementioned issues
- Reaching, drafting and signing a custody agreement
The amount of time that will be spent in mediation varies with the particulars of your custody issues and is especially based on both individuals’ willingness to cooperate and ability to compromise.
How to Prepare for Child Custody Mediation
In this stage you should consider getting advice from your attorney so you can walk into mediation with a solid grasp on your rights and responsibilities. It is important to know what to expect when participating in child custody mediation. You should prepare your custody and visitation proposal and a daily schedule for you and your child. Additionally, you will want to collect and organize information and records relevant to your child such as report cards, medical records, therapist or doctor letters, etc.
The Initial Meeting
It is important to enter into mediation with an open mind and a willingness to make concessions. Using mediation as a platform to point fingers and fight about what went wrong in the relationship will get you nowhere and will just waste your time. The mediator will sit down with both parents (and their attorneys, if necessary) and explain the rules of the mediation. This includes confidentiality about what is spoken about between the involved parties. The mediator will also make it clear that what they are offering is not legal advice.
Organizing the Issues
Your mediator will likely categorize child custody issues by priority, either by those that require immediate action versus those that can wait or in terms of difficulty. By successfully compromising on early, less contentious issues, the parents can use that as a stepping stone to dealing with more difficult issues later on.
While every case will be different, there are some general issues that must be resolved in any mediation, such as:
- The custody and visitation schedule
- Exceptions to the schedule
- Methods of communication between parents about the children
- Issues of a special nature, such as medical care, religious studies, extracurricular activities, etc.
- Method by which the custody agreement can be altered in the future
Additional issues can be brought up as this is only the most general list of issues that should be resolved. Sessions will usually last 2-3 hours over the course of several weeks.
In order to reach an agreement, both sides must be willing and able to discuss their thoughts openly and be willing to listen to what the other has to say about each issue. It is also important to decide issues with your child’s best interests in mind. That is the reason for child custody mediation in the first place.
The Custody Agreement
Once all the outstanding custody issues have been discussed and resolved, the mediator will aid you in preparing a child custody agreement. Make sure to read this agreement over carefully, preferably with your attorney, as it is a legally binding contract. Once this is done, the document is ready to be submitted to the court for approval.
Contact Steven B. Menack About Child Custody Mediation Today
Divorce or legal separation can be a painful process for parents and their children. In order to spare yourself, your ex and your children from unnecessary stress and conflict, consider child custody mediation over a lengthy court case. Steven B. Menack has been helping couples resolve child custody issues for over 25 years. Contact us today in order to schedule mediation or if you have any questions about the process.