Child Custody Mediation

Christmas morning, Thanksgiving dinner, summer vacations ... every parent wants to experience these special times with their children. During a divorce, parents can fight bitterly over schedules and shared moments. Child custody mediation can help.

During mediation, parents can create the best plan for their children. The work they do here could save them time and money. And they could strengthen their relationship as parents, too. 

What is child custody mediation?

In most states, divorcing couples must craft a parenting plan identifying each parent's responsibilities, where their children will live, and when visits will occur. During child custody mediation, parents can hammer out these plans. 

Impartial third-party mediators conduct the sessions. They introduce topics, enforce good behavior, and help parents find common ground. 

But mediators typically don't develop solutions for fighting spouses. Instead, they help parents collaborate on plans to benefit their children. 

Child custody mediation typically involves at least one in-person meeting with the mediator and both parents. If the couple has a particularly fraught relationship, they may need to meet more than once. 

Sometimes, courts order parents to work with mediators. But sometimes, parents use mediation as an alternative to courtrooms. If they can agree on a plan, they can submit the paperwork as part of a DIY divorce and skip litigation altogether. 

Read: 9 Terms to Know When Making Child Custody Decisions

What are the benefits of child custody mediation?

Few people like high-pressure conversations, and divorcing couples may not want to see one another again. But child custody mediation comes with plenty of benefits, including some that last long after the divorce is finalized. Here are some of them:

Fewer costs 

A traditional divorce is expensive. Couples hire lawyers, and they pay those professionals to represent their interests in court. Cases can drag on, and if they do, lawyer's fees can rise accordingly.

Some forms of mediation come with fees, too. But a typical child custody mediation session is measured in hours, not months. You could save a significant amount of money by skipping the courtroom. 

Amicable end to your marriage 

If you have kids, your connection to your partner doesn't end when the marriage does. Parents must communicate, sharing information about schedules, expenses, and more. Ugly divorces with plenty of accusations can leave deep scars, making collaboration difficult.

While mediation isn't designed to mend your marriage, some couples find it less painful and harmful than a traditional courtroom divorce. They still tackle difficult topics, but they do so collaboratively.

Stronger communication skills 

Some forms of mediation are specifically designed to teach participants active listening skills. Parents learn how to really pay attention to what the other party wants, and they understand how their words can hurt

Skills you develop in mediation can help you with future problems, such as skipped child support payments or chronic lateness. You could experience fewer fights, and that's always helpful for children.

How does child custody mediation work? 

A mediator is typically a neutral third party playing the role of facilitator, not judge. Any decisions made in mediation are binding, but solutions come straight from parents. 

A child custody mediation typically involves these steps:

  • Ground rules: The mediator explains the process and helps parents understand how to conduct themselves during the talk. 
  • Introduction: Couples can discuss almost anything in mediation, including custody, visitation, or both. Your mediator will choose one topic to discuss.
  • Framing: Both parties outline their solution to the topic at hand, using any evidence they've brought to shore up their case. 
  • Compromise: The two parties work together to close the gap between the proposed solutions. 
  • Repeat: When one issue is settled, couples start the process again to resolve another problem. 

At the end of a successful mediation session, parents have a fully negotiated parenting plan to file with the court system. And since they’ve crafted that agreement, they’re likely to abide by the rules. 


How to prepare for child custody mediation 

Think of your child custody mediation meeting as a marathon. You'll spend hours working with your partner on plans to support your children. By the end of the day, you'll be very tired but proud of yourself for your hard work.

But just as you train for a marathon, you should also prepare for your mediation meeting. The work you do to prepare can help you present your case clearly and come to an agreement sooner.

Here's what to do ahead of time:

  • Gather receipts. If you're discussing child support in addition to custody, support your case. Collect bills relating to education, childcare, health insurance, food, clothing, and more. Those receipts can help you settle on a fair monthly amount to support your child. 
  • Bring pertinent records. If you've used a psychologist, doctor, or therapist to help your child, bring notes with you. Evidence like this can help you make your case for custody.
  • Use a calendar. Sketch out your ideal child custody arrangement. When will your child visit your partner? How will you split holidays and weekends? What about vacations?
  • Work through anger. Mediation involves give and take. Residual anger and resentment can cloud your judgment and keep you from negotiating solutions to benefit your children. Meditate, exercise, or journal to help clear your head. 
  • Practice. In most mediations, couples lay out their vision for custody. Work on your speech, and practice reading it several times. 

Don't forget to get a good night's sleep before your mediation, and eat a nutritious meal. When you take care of your physical health, you'll be ready to discuss issues clearly. 

Tips to help you ensure a successful mediation 

Mediators are skilled professionals, adept at steering even difficult couples to good decisions. Always listen to your mediator and follow instructions carefully. 

These additional tips can help you during the discussion:

  • Don't interrupt. Your partner may express opinions that fill you with anger, fear, or sadness. Be patient, and let your partner talk. Your mediator will give you an appropriate time to respond. 
  • Bend without breaking. You will likely not get everything you want, but compromise can help you come closer to your ideal solution. Go into the meeting knowing that neither of you will get 100% of what they ask for.
  • Put your children first. Look for decisions that are right for your children, even if that means they're not perfect for you. If you’re feeling heated, ask for a break so you can step back and breathe. Remember that you want the solution that works best for your children.
  • Express positivity. You're angry with your partner, and you're ready for your divorce. But find ways to connect and communicate with your partner. You'll lay the groundwork for a successful partnership in raising your children. 
Watch: We can't agree on custody. Now what?



Child Custody. Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation. 
Child Custody and Parenting Time Mediation. Oregon Judicial Branch. 
Idaho Rules of Family Law Procedure Rule 602. State of Idaho Judicial Branch. 
Divorcing Couples' Experience With Child Custody Mediation and Litigation. (2017). Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.