Court-Ordered Mediation vs. Voluntary Mediation
Divorce and child custody disagreements can be challenging processes that are difficult to navigate. Child custody mediation can be a great way for parents to resolve agreements about a parenting plan for the children. If parents are able to work out an agreement, the mediator will help the parent create a plan that can become a custody and visitation order if it is signed by a judge.
Court-ordered mediation lasts no more than a few hours, and it is typically conducted in one or two sessions. During a session, a court employee such as a psychologist, marriage, family counselor, or social worker, will guide the parents through a discussion of their children’s best interests.
The matters discussed will depend on the relevant issues at hand, but can involve the terms of legal custody, physical, custody, and the parenting schedule. The goal of mediation is to help the parents make decisions together instead of letting a judge decide.
The parents and the mediator are usually the only people in the room, but each parent can request to bring a neutral support individual who will not participate. Sometimes, the mediators will interview the children involved in the case.
There are two types of mediation: court-ordered mediation and voluntary or private mediation. Voluntary mediation takes place before the divorce or family law case and can be used to resolve any differences a couple might have. Voluntary mediation is conducted when both parties agree that there will be benefits to resolving their differences formally. The parties will choose their own mediator who is licensed to practice divorce mediation.
In court-ordered mediation, the court mandates the process in order to help the parents reach logical and beneficial conclusions. It takes place after the case has been filed in court, but before the arguments are made before a judge. In this situation, a mediator will be appointed by the court, and the parents agree to participate in good faith.
If the parents are able to resolve the issues being mediated, the court will sign off on the agreement. If the parents do not agree during mediation, the mediator can give the court a written recommendation. For this reason, it is important for parents to be mindful of their behavior, actions, and words during the mediation process if they want the outcome to be in their favor.
How to Prepare for Child Custody Mediation
In order to approach mediation successfully, you will need to keep your goals and desires in mind and to be aware of the other parent’s goals and desires. Before mediation begins, you should have an idea of your non-negotiables and the way you will navigate discussing them when they arise. You should also be aware of the other parent’s non-negotiables and have some idea of areas where you can compromise.
This is easier said than done, but it will be helpful to focus on some of the logistics of your parenting plan. For example, you can print documents that will help facilitate the discussions of the co-parent's schedules. You can bring calendars of the parents’ schedules and a logical layout of the preferred time percentage that each parent will spend with the children in accordance with those schedules. You will also want to bring your child’s school schedule and any other extracurricular activities they might be involved with.
When you bring these materials, rather than arguing about vague time divisions, you will have a solid plan for how these divisions of time will work with your schedule. The focal point of the conversation needs to be the best interests of the child. Having a solid layout of the parents’ schedules and a plan for how the child’s time will fit into this demonstrates that you are looking out for their best interests. You can even go so far as to track the time breakups that the current arrangements are facilitating and discuss how this has impacted the child.
Overall, because the mediator can write a recommendation to the court in the case that the parents do not agree, you will want to be cordial, respectful, and cooperative during the custody mediation session. You want to make it clear that your motivations are for the best interest of the child and are not selfish. Below are some simple tips for making your mediation smooth and successful:
- Keep your children’s best interests at the forefront of the conversation
- Listen to the mediator and the other parent in a cordial manner
- Get adequate sleep the night before so that you can be fully present to advocate for yourself and your child
- Remain courteous, peaceful, and professional throughout the process
- Take full advantage of the time given and keep the conversation topics focused
- Write down concerns that should be discussed in a calm manner
- Accept that you will need to compromise in certain areas and be willing to do so when necessary
- Bring multiple schedule proposals and plan ideas
Child custody mediation can be a powerful tool for helping parents agree on splitting time, but the process should be navigated carefully. It is important to maintain your composure throughout this process. On the chance that you and your co-parent cannot agree on certain matters, the mediator can make a written recommendation to the court. If you have been handling yourself professionally throughout the process, it will only serve to benefit you.