Going through a divorce always means challenges and adjustments. If there are children involved, one of the biggest challenges often revolves around child custody issues. When parents can’t agree on child custody arrangements, mediation can help prevent bitter custody disputes and lengthy court battles by creating a child custody plan that’s agreeable to both parents.
What is Child Custody Mediation?
Most courts encourage parents to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs instead of a court trial to deal with child custody disputes. Mediation, the main ADR for child custody cases, saves parents and courts time and money that are typically spent on lengthy court trials. During mediation, both parents and their attorneys meet with a neutral third party, a mediator, to discuss child custody issues and concerns. Although there is no judge present, the results of the process can impact the outcome of your child custody case, so it’s important to be well prepared. By understanding the process and preparing for discussions, your child custody outcome will be more favorable.
Preparing for Mediation
To prepare for mediation, there are three important steps you should follow: gather information and evidence, outline your issues and concerns, and establish your objectives.
Gather Information and Evidence
- Information – Gather relevant records such as your child’s medical history and school records. Write out daily schedules for you and your child and prepare your requests for visitation and custody proposals, including holidays and birthdays. Present any information that’s in your favor to substantiate your requests.
- Evidence – If you’re disputing custody of the other parent due to poor parenting skills or an unhealthy home situation due to abuse or violence, drug or alcohol use, or mental health issues, you will need evidence as proof. Although discussions during mediation are considered confidential, certain inappropriate parental conduct will be reported to the court.
Outline Your Issues and Concerns
Before mediation begins, outline and organize important custody issues and concerns for discussion:
- A regular visitation and child custody schedule
- Exceptions to the schedule like holidays, birthdays and vacations
- School and after school activities and events
- Special concerns like religious preferences, medical care, and emergencies
- How parents will communicate with each other concerning the children
- Any future changes to the custody agreement
During the process, the mediator will help you with discussions on child custody issues and concerns. For best results, it’s important for each parent to discuss issues openly and listen to requests by the other parent. To come up with a fair child custody agreement, each parent should stay focused on solutions that are in the child’s best interest.
Establish Your Objectives
It’s important to discuss your objectives with your attorney prior to the mediation process. If you want full custody, make sure your attorney knows that before mediation begins. If your ideal scenario proves impossible during discussions, make sure you’ve discussed a backup plan with your attorney so you know what your next steps will be. You can set up phone visitations on days you don’t have visitation, or set up a special agreement for school events and birthdays. Courts encourage parents to work together to allow the non-custodial parent meaningful access to the child’s life.
Finalizing the Mediation Process
In most child custody cases, the mediator has a big impact on the outcome of mediation. The mediator presents reasons for their conclusion including detailed information that’s discussed during the mediation process by both parents. If a child custody agreement can’t be reached during mediation, the mediator will make recommendations which are typically accepted without question by the court.