When the parents of a child do not live together they must decide how custody of the child will be divided. Child custody disputes can be emotionally charged, especially in cases involving divorce or the end of a relationship. If the parents are able to put aside their differences and come to an agreement without court intervention, however, it will be less stressful for everyone involved. One option that allows parents to determine custody of a child without involving the courts is child custody mediation.
What is Mediation?
In a child custody mediation, both parents meet with a mediator who will evaluate the facts of their case and make recommendations regarding how custody should be divided. The purpose of mediation is to facilitate the parents’ discussions in coming to an agreement regarding custody. Mediators are neutral parties who assess a situation objectively without any emotional involvement. In many cases mediators are licensed attorneys who have practiced in the area of family law and can offer insight based on their experience. Regardless of whether the mediator is an attorney, it is prudent for each parent to be represented by an attorney who can fully apprise them of the terms of any custody agreement that results from the mediation and ensure they do not waive any rights.
Each parent should discuss his or her wishes regarding custody with his or her attorney prior to the mediation and go into the mediation with clearly defined expectations. It is essential to remember, however, that the purpose of the mediation is to determine a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child. To that end, it is important for both parents to be open to suggestions and come to the mediation with an open mind.
Similar to a custody case filed with a court, mediation can determine both physical and legal custody, visitation schedules, and how and when parties will exchange custody of the child. Each parent can present the mediator with any evidence he or she feels is necessary to properly assess the case. Depending on the age and maturity of the child involved in the custody dispute, the mediator may want to interview the child. If the child is of an age where he or she can make a reasoned decision and expresses a preference regarding which parent he or she resides with, the mediator may take that into consideration. For children that are very young, it is probably better if they are left with a caretaker during the mediation.
Benefits of Mediation
The mediation process is generally confidential and mediations are usually conducted without a court reporter. As such, parents can speak freely without fear of anyone learning what was discussed. Additionally, mediation is a much more cost-effective solution to resolving custody disputes than engaging in protracted litigation. Mediation also helps to minimize any animosity or hostility between the parents, as it is focused on alleviating conflict.
What Happens After Mediation
If the parties are able to come to an agreement, it will be reduced to writing and signed. Even though one of the benefits of mediation is that it avoids having to deal with the court system, it is prudent for the parents to file any custody agreement with a court that would have jurisdiction over the matter following the mediation. This provides a safeguard that allows either parent to seek court intervention to enforce the agreement, should one of the parents fail to abide by its terms.