Mediation in domestic cases: Child Custody Mediation

Mediation can play a very important role in a child custody case. If you and your spouse have children and decide to separate, it will be important for you to come up with some form of co-parenting arrangement. When parents separate, simple tasks such as pick-up and drop-off from school, and running to and from extracurricular activities may become difficult to coordinate. Although these might seem like trivial issues, these are the types of things that can cause major hassles down the line. If you and your spouse are able to make suitable arrangements amongst yourselves, you may save yourself not only stress, but also expense.

Remember that you and whatever attorney you decide to work with are faced with a difficult task when you come in the door with a conflict involving custody. The fact is, in most cases, you and the attorney are strangers. The attorney doesn’t know anything about your children, your spouse, or your family dynamic, and while every attorney must work diligently at the outset to gather the relevant facts in a particular case, he or she is not on the front lines with you every day. In many cases, the specifics of any custody arrangement are best left to you and the other parent. That is where custody mediation plays a key role.

People often have concerns about this mediation process: Here is short list of responses to some of the most common questions that come up with regard to the custody mediation process:

    1. Do I have to go along with what the mediator thinks is the best parenting arrangement?

Answer: Of course not. While I certainly encourage (with emphasis) clients to defer to what the mediator is recommending in a particular case (after all, this person is a mediator for a reason), you are not bound by what the mediator recommends or proposes. If you do not agree with a proposed Parenting Agreement you are free to walk away from the mediation process. However, if mediation fails and you and the other party cannot resolve things outside of court, you may end up in a full blown custody trial, in which case you and the other parent lose control over the outcome.

    1. What is the result of reaching a Parenting Agreement during mediation?

Answer: The Parenting Agreement will be submitted to the
court for approval by the judge. Once signed by the judge, the Parenting Agreement becomes an order of the court, meaning that all parties must comply with the terms as written, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

    1. What if the circumstances change with our children such that complying with the terms of the proposed order becomes unreasonable or overly burdensome?

Answer: The terms of a Parenting Agreement can be modified when you and the other party can agree to return to mediation. If for some reason, the other parent will not agree to return to mediation, you can usually seek the assistance of the court in modifying the current arrangement if you are able to show that there is a substantial change of circumstances affecting the welfare of the minor children. You will usually need to file a motion explaining such circumstances. As you might expect, it is certainly easier and more cost effective for you and the other parent to return to mediation, rather than proceeding in court.