How to Win Child Custody Mediation
Mediation is an hours-long process that can help couples end marriages amicably. When children are involved, a successful mediation results in a plan that addresses parental concerns and a child's needs.
When parents talk about "winning" mediation, they're often referring to sole-custody arrangements. The children live primarily with one party and visit the other on a predetermined schedule.
It's better to think of a win as an arrangement that benefits your child – even if it means you spend a little time apart.
6 child custody mediation tips
Preparation is key to a successful child custody mediation meeting. Gathering documents and schedules is important, but so is preparing your heart and mind for a crucial conversation that puts your children first.
These tips can help you walk into the meeting with confidence.
1. Track current arrangements
The average divorce takes a year to complete. When your mediation begins, you've likely hammered out interim child custody agreements and followed those plans for a few weeks.
Write down those arrangements, noting the following:
- How long your child spends with each parent
- Time of pickups and drop-offs
- How well your child has handled the plan
Sometimes, a subtle shift to your existing plan is enough to end a child custody mediation meeting. But without firm documentation, you’re relying on memory. It’s best to come into the meeting prepared with hard facts that are documented.
2. Explore schedule ideas
Grab a blank calendar and write down a child-share plan. Think about the following details:
- When your child will be with you
- When your child will be with your partner
- How you'll handle holidays (like Christmas and the 4th of July)
- Where your child will spend school breaks
- How your child will spend the summertime
- How to handle unexpected events
If you craft a perfect plan that seems just right for your family, bring it to your meeting. But don't feel pressured to share.
Mediation is a negotiation between parties who can't agree. Examining schedules from all angles may help you feel more flexible and accommodating when the talks begin. And this exercise can help you understand what's really important to you (like the holiday schedule) and what can slide (like summer break).
3. Ask for expert help
Up to 25% of children have emotional and behavioral difficulties that appear when their parents' divorce. A child like this might visit a doctor or therapist. If so, that professional may have strong opinions about living arrangements that would support the child.
Ask your child's doctor or therapist for notes or supporting documents. And ask this person to speak honestly with you about how to handle custody arrangements.
You may hear upsetting opinions. Your child's doctor may recommend a 50/50 parenting split, for example, and this may not be what you want. But this expert guidance can help you come up with plans that allow your child to thrive.
4. Keep your emotions in check
Few people enjoy tense conversations. Your mediator should help keep things civil, but you might have flashes of difficult emotions as you talk with your spouse.
Look for ways to stay calm. Some people appreciate a cup of warm tea, as inhaling the scent keeps them grounded. Others snap a rubber band on their wrists to keep them from interjecting with a phrase they'll regret.
Practice self-soothing techniques before your meeting begins so you know what to do when your self-control starts to slip.
5. Remember that bad spouses can be good parents
Up to 40% of divorces are caused by an affair. If your spouse had another relationship during your marriage, you're likely hurt, angry, and sad. It's tempting to get payback by withholding access to your children, and you may believe that lies disqualify your partner from parenting.
Adults can (and do) things to one another that they'd never inflict on a child. Someone who lies to you may never do the same to your children.
Look for ways to be objective about your spouse. Think about what your child might want from this relationship and how cutting ties could be harmful to your child's development.
6. Be open to suggestions
Both parties must bend during mediation. You offer your spouse a solution, and you get something in return.
It's critical to think about what you want and what's best for your child. But enter the conversation willing to listen, negotiate, and compromise. Your talk will be more successful and less contentious if both parties work together to find a solution.
Preparation is critical in child custody mediation
A lot is on the line during a child custody mediation conversation. Just as you'd prepare for a big test, you should think hard about your mediation before it begins. The work you do now could help you emerge from mediation with plans that are right for your family and your future.
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ReferencesFamily Court: Mediation Program. Rhode Island Judiciary.
How Long Does a Divorce Take? (September 2022). Forbes.
Children and Divorce. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Is Your Marriage Doomed After an Affair? (February 2022). Psychology Today.