In many divorce cases, a court will require the parties to mediate their case before it will have a trial or hearing on the issues of the case. The court wants to save trial time from its already crowded court dockets. It believes that the parties will be better served by reaching an agreement themselves, with the help of a mediator, than having a judge make all important decisions. Child custody issues are one of the divorce considerations where mediation is helpful and productive.
What Is Mediation?
A mediation is a meeting among the parties, their counsel and a mediator. The mediator is usually someone who is trained in problem solving and helping the parties achieve consensus. They do not take sides. Rather, they guide the parties and offers suggestions that will bring an agreement that is workable and is in the best interest of the children. The mediator will meet with both parents together and also meet with both parents individually. He or she will take suggestions and proposals from one party to the other. If an agreement is reached, it will then become an official order of the court.
The Issues Involved in Child Custody Mediation
The basic, general guideline for custody issues is the determination of what is in the best interest of the children. There are many components to this determination.
Legal custody involves each parent being involved in the decisions that impact the children. Often the parties are given joint legal custody as an acknowledgment that they should both be involved in making those decisions. A determination needs to be made as to which parent should have the final say if the parties cannot reach agreement on the major issues of:
- extra-curricular activities
- religious training
You should be prepared to show any special expertise that you have in any of those areas that would make you the better parent to make those final decisions. If you have a history of being the parent who is more involved in certain areas, you should bring into the discussion. For example, if you are the parent who always goes to the parent-teacher meetings and the other parent does not, that would be an important consideration.
This is the area that deals with the time the children spends with each of the parents. There is often the designation of primary and secondary physical custody. But the most important thing is being with the children. You should be prepared to tell the mediator any particular reasons the children should be with you most of the time.
If you are the more involved and nurturing parent, specific examples should be given. If there are specific examples of the other parent not having those qualities, you can subsequently bring those to the mediator’s attention. Physical custody can often boil down to logistics. If you are the parent whose job makes it easier to have the children live with you, then you should make that clear. A parent who has young children and who works will want to prepare a detailed plan for the after-school care for the children including specific day care facilities or care givers. If your work requires you to travel, you should similarly detail your plans for the children when you are away if the other parent is not a part of any backup plan.
The parent who can more easily ensure consistent reliability with respect to handling the children’s school functions and other activities may have a bit more leverage in receiving primary custody. You will likely need to suggest specific days and times. You should be prepared to do that. Preparing a calendar on paper or on your computer that shows your suggested custody arrangement day by day or month by month is strongly encouraged.
The Other Parent
While you do not want to purposefully turn this into a mud-slinging contest, you should be prepared to make sure the mediator knows any relevant information about the other parent that may be an important factor. If the other party has a problem with alcohol or drugs, you should relate it with specific examples. Any temper problems are just as relevant. Certainly, any incidents of physical abuse are extremely important. If you are doing most of the child rearing, you should be prepared to show evidence of that. It is important to remember that many of these things involve perceptions. You don’t want the mediator to think that one glass of wine after dinner indicates an alcohol dependency if that is not the case. In rare circumstances, one parent will be denied visitation. These situations are extreme, but you should be prepared to address them if they exist.
How to Prepare for the Process of Mediation
The mediator will spend some time with both parents and their counsel. However, they will spend most of the time meeting individually with each party and his or her attorney. Be prepared to tell the mediator all of the facts that you want to the court to know. Write them down in an organized fashion before the session. If there are certain things that you do not want shared with the other side, make sure you tell the mediator.
You may relate an incident to the mediator for the purpose of giving the mediator a greater understanding. However, you may also be aware that it will inflame things if it is mentioned to the other side. You should be prepared in advance to make specific proposals in connection with the major custody concerns stated above. This also includes other concerns which you think are important in your situation.
The job of the mediator is to help reach an agreement between the parents as to custody. The mediator is not an advocate for either side. Suggestions that the mediator makes should therefore not be taken as his or her being on a particular side of the issue. You should be prepared to engage in a good faith give and take with the other parent. This may involve compromising without, however, giving up your principles. The mediator will take suggestions and proposals back and forth. Subsequently, you will need to think and react. If a party has one position regarding custody and is unwilling to budge, the mediation is doomed to fail. This will thus be a waste of time, effort and money.
Contact Family Lawyer Rick D. Banks Today
A successful mediation of child custody will be the result of the contributions and compromises of both parties. It is far preferable to a court determining the custody of your children. You will stand a better chance of a successful resolution of this most important of issues if you:
- are properly prepared,
- know what to expect in the mediation session, and
- have the right attitude.
Family attorney Rick D. Banks can answer your questions and prepare you for mediation. Call today for a consultation.