Mediation in Child Custody Disputes
When parents make the decision to separate or divorce, custody issues are usually the most difficult to resolve. In most cases, both parents want to be an integral part of their children’s lives, so reaching a custody agreement can be difficult. Child custody cases can be long, drawn out, and adversarial, especially in the midst of a divorce. However, mediated custody agreements are increasingly popular with separating couples, and can offer a less stressful, time consuming, and expensive solution.
What is child custody mediation?Issues of divorce and custody can be negotiated outside of court when the circumstances allow it. Courts are increasingly encouraging parents to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs to resolve child custody disagreements. Although child custody mediation, a form of ADR, is normally voluntary, some states require participation in the mediation process before a judge will issue any court orders on custody issues.
Understanding the mediation process is important for preparing for the actual mediation. During mediation, both parents (and their attorneys, if they have them) meet with a neutral third party to discuss and try to resolve issues related to child custody. Discussions that take place during mediation are generally confidential, which means that what is said during mediation sessions cannot later be used if the dispute results in litigation.
During mediation, parents and their attorneys will meet with the mediator, identify any the contested issues, discuss solutions, and attempt to reach, draft, and sign a custody agreement. If you are involved in child custody mediation, it is important to be prepared to discuss the issues and make concessions. Parents who cannot communicate with each other or who have engaged in behavior that is threatening, coercive, manipulative or deceptive are usually not well-suited to negotiate a child custody agreement.
How does the mediation work?The mediator typically starts the mediation by getting all parties together, and explaining the ground rules, including rules about confidentiality. The parties will then typically go into separate rooms, and the mediator will discuss each parent’s position regarding the visitation schedule and any exceptions to the schedule; how each parent intends to communicate and co-parent with the other parent; special issues, such as religion, medical care, schooling, and extracurricular activities; and modifying any custody agreement in the future to account for changes in circumstances.
The mediator will also inquire about concerns you have with the other parent’s parenting. Be prepared to identify and explain your concerns, as well as ways the other parent can address those concerns. You should also be prepared to discuss your home, your personal life, and how they will impact and improve your children’s lives—topics typically include, living conditions, the children’s bedrooms, and how your children fit into your nuclear and extended family. These are all factors the mediator will consider in helping you and the child’s other parent reach a custody agreement that works for everyone, children and parents alike.
What are the benefits of child custody mediation?There are several benefits to mediating child custody issues before taking them to court. Mediation is a non-adversarial approach, and can be less aggravating than litigation, often reducing the stress of the situation for both the parents and the children. Mediation typically results in an outcome much quicker than litigation too. Another significant benefit of mediation is that it is less expensive than litigation. While the hourly rate for an attorney is likely to be the same whether you decide to mediate or litigate, since mediation is a shorter, quicker process, it is typically far less expensive.
Take-awaysMediation is an effective tool for resolving child custody matters without causing additional stress and expense. Parents who work together through mediation help create a foundation on which they can maintain a peaceful co-parenting relationship, for themselves and their children. If you and your child’s parent are separating or divorcing, experienced family law attorneys should be consulted to help you through the mediation process.
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