What is child custody mediation?
If you and your former partner are unable to agree on child custody and/or visitation issues, you both will be required to participate in mandatory child custody mediation. A skilled (at least a Master’s Degree and extensive clinical experience in the fields of psychology, marriage, family and child counseling) and trained mediator (locally termed “child custody recommending counselor”) will be assigned to your case. The objective of mediation is to give parents an opportunity to discuss and resolve issues relating to the best interest of their children in a neutral setting. Goals of mediation include: help parents make a parenting plan that is in the best interest of their children, help parents to make a plan that lets children spend time with both of their parents and help parties to learn skills to deal with anger and resentment.
In many counties, if the parents are unable to come to agreement, the mediator will provide recommendations to the court. These recommendations will be (strongly) considered by the judicial officer but each parent will have the opportunity to state their objections to the recommendation.
What should I DO at mediation?
DO focus on your child’s needs:
Remember: It is the goal of the court to make an order that serves the best interests of your children. Spending time rehashing upsetting events that occurred in your marriage will waste precious time and frustrate your counselor. The focus should not be on your needs — but the needs of your children. Not to say you should agree to an order that is impractical or overburdensome, but the focus should not be on your convenience or on punishing the other party.
DO go to mediation prepared:
Always go to mediation with a custody and time-share plan. I advise some clients to even bring in a calendar with days marked off for each parent and addressing school holidays, work schedules and extra curricular activities. The mediator may use your proposal as a starting place for negotiation. You will impress the counselor with preparedness. You will also feel more confident knowing you have thought through a plan that feels doable.
DO have an open mind and a business-like attitude:
It is expected that your ex will say things that are hurtful, untrue or counterproductive. Trust that the mediator can see through unreasonable requests. Take a deep breath when communications get heated. Engaging in back and forth bantering and/or bad mouthing will be noted by the mediator and addressed in his/her recommendations. Mediators have extensive experience and are well aware of schedules that most often work for parents. If they don’t work, parents come back to court and often see the same mediator. You may feel that a 5 day on 5 day off schedule would be the best idea for your child (to limit exchanges with your ex) but for a young child, 5 days may be too long to go without seeing one parent. While you know your child best, the counselor may have proposals that are worth considering.
DO bring up valid concerns about the other parent’s ability to care for your child:
But be forewarned, nit picking is not helpful. Some valid concerns include: inappropriate child restraints in vehicles, domestic violence in the other parent’s household, getting your child to school late on a regular basis, consistently arriving at visitations late, harassing emails or texts from the noncustodial parent and substance abuse issues. Less valid are concerns about the other party’s apparent disinterest in parenting before the breakup. Mediators and the Court want to give all parents a chance to be present for the children.
DO be realistic:
A settlement isn’t a settlement if you are totally happy. Nobody is a true “winner” in co-parenting disputes. Keep in mind your schedule and obligations as well as the other parent. If you work the graveyard shift three days a week, who will the kids be with in the evenings?
DO understand that co-parenting is a process:
While we’d all like the first agreement or order to be the ‘final’ one, it is usually not that easy. Sometimes the court will give a less active parent an opportunity to become more involved. If they do, great! (You’ll get a break and your child will benefit from two engaged parents). If they don’t, you’ll now have an opportunity to return to court and demonstrate that an order has been violated (giving rise to a modification).
- Refer to your children as “ours:” Failing to acknowledge your ex partner as a parent typically annoys a mediator.
- Try to obtain an order that is as specific as possible to avoid ambiguities, arguments and misunderstandings: If you are in mediation, it’s because you have already had issues that have led you to court. You want an order that you can enforce and an order that clearly defines vacations, holidays, transportation, legal custody and time share. You need to be able to plan your life too!
- Be firm: Sometimes agreements are not in your children’s best interests. Especially if the other parent is unreasonable. While you need to be flexible, you do not need to agree to a parenting plan that will leave you unhappy. If necessary, you can leave it up to the judge to decide. An experienced family law lawyer can guide you through the process.
Mediation is an integral part of family law when you have child custody and visitation issues. It’s okay to be nervous or emotional. But by staying focused and on task, you are much more likely to have a successful outcome. Should you have additional questions and/or need expert assistance with your Family Law matter, please schedule a free 15 minute consultation with us.