Many parents are vaguely familiar with mediation as a way of resolving child custody cases, but aren't sure what it is or how to initiate it. In short, mediation is a process of resolving legal disputes in which a neutral third party -- a professional mediator -- helps parents discuss issues and reach an agreement about parenting decisions. In child custody cases, mediation encourages communication and cooperation between parents, and allows parents to work together to come to an agreement that works for everyone. Many times, this means reaching an agreement about important parenting decisions such as parenting time and visitation schedules.
The mediator’s role is to facilitate the discussion by identifying issues and asking questions. A child custody mediator can also assist with drafting the terms of a child custody agreement, if one is reached. However, mediators do not give legal advice and do not decide the case. Instead, their primary role is to facilitate communication and help parents reach a mutual agreement.
Benefits of mediation
- Financial - Child custody mediation can save you time and money, compared to the cost of bringing a child custody case before your local family court.
- Emotional - Mediation allows you to have greater control over parenting and childcare decisions, compared to having your child custody case decided in court.
- Increased participation - When an agreement is reached through mediation, parents are able to decide the terms of the agreement themselves, rather than having a judge decide. This means that you'll potentially have greater control over what's happening -- and it could also mean that your ex will be more likely to voice his or her opinion from the start.
- Increased follow-through - Some research has shown that when parents are able to reach an agreement through mediation, they are more satisfied with the agreement and are more likely to follow through with it. This could mean that your ex is more likely to do his/her part if you reach an agreement through mediation, as opposed to going through your local family court.
- Confidentiality - Finally, mediation is confidential, and mediators and other parties present cannot discuss the issues raised in a mediation session with anyone else. This is very different from the typical court proceeding, which is often open to the public.
How to initiate mediation
Start by reaching out to your local family court to see if they have a list of approved child custody mediators. If they do, research each one online and reach out to the two or three you're most interested in. If your local family court doesn't provide mediator referrals, ask other single moms and dads you know for referrals or research mediators in your area online.
What to expect from mediation
When you enter into mediation with your ex, you can expect to discuss multiple issues related to parenting -- including your parenting time routine or visitation schedule. Through this conversation, you may be able to reach a full or partial agreement. A successful mediation session will end with both of you reaching an agreement about all or some of the major issues you face.
A full agreement is where parents settle all issues, while a partial agreement is where some of the issues are settled but others are still outstanding. Even if you reach an agreement regarding only some of the issues you disagree on currently, your mediation session would still be considered successful.
Why mediation doesn't work for everyone
While mediation is a great option for many parents, it's not for everyone. Mediation works best for parents who are able to work together and put their children’s needs first. If you and your ex have a hard time communicating or express a lot of animosity toward one another, you may find it particularly difficult to work together during mediation. In addition, if one parent is abusive toward the other or there are allegations of child abuse, mediation may not be an appropriate option.
Finally, if you're curious about mediation or believe it could help you reach a mutual agreement with your ex, take steps to find a mediator in your area and start the process. It could prove to be the best thing you've ever done for your kids!