The child custody mediation process is one in which parents attempt to work together to devise a parenting plan that is mutually acceptable to both parents. This parenting plan may be quite structured (specifying day-to-day timeshare as well as holidays, vacations, and other special issues). The most important aspect of custody mediation is that parents are in full control of the parenting plan. Additionally, parents are able discuss the parenting plan with their children prior to mediation so that the children feel involved in the decision making process.
Approach your mediation with an open mind, willing to listen to the other parent. Parents who believe there is only one solution to custody and visitation issues are usually stubborn and generally refuse to compromise. Below are some helpful tips to consider as you approach your custody mediation:
- BE DRESSED APPROPRIATELY. Please wear dress clothes to mediation. Pants (non-denim) and a dress shirt (tie optional, but encouraged) are appropriate for men. For women, pants (non-denim) or a skirt and blouse are appropriate. Remember that first impressions can influence a mediator’s recommendations.
- BE FAIR. Never refer to the children as “my” children or “your” children; always refer to them as “our” children.
- BE REALISTIC. Know what will work with your work, school, and other obligations and don’t forget to keep the other parent’s schedule in mind. You will not be successful in proposing a parenting plan that will not work out logistically.
- BE PREPARED. Know exactly what you want. If your side of the family always gets together on Labor Day Weekend, be prepared to discuss this with the mediator and let him/her know that you want the children to be a part of the event every year.
- BE FLEXIBLE. Always go to mediation with firm and well thought out ideas of what you would like as far as a schedule goes, but always listen to the other side, you might be surprised by their suggestions. The mediator will also be evaluating which parent is more likely to encourage continuing and frequent contact with the other parent.
- BE RESPECTFUL. The other parent is going to be around you and your children for the rest of their lives and mediation is not the proper place to name call, bash, or air out dirty laundry. At the same time, be sure to communicate legitimate parenting concerns to the mediator.
- BE FIRM. Do not agree to something that is not in your child’s best interests just to make the process easier and quicker. Worst case scenario, you will put your case in front of a judge who will make a determination for you. At least you know you did all you could.
- BE FOCUSED. Mediation is not the time to bring up child support, mortgages, or other issues. Mediation is all about child custody and attempting to form an agreement that is in the best interests of the children.
- BE ATTENTIVE. Take written notes or make mental notes of the other parent’s points and arguments. This will help you/your attorney prepare for the upcoming custody hearing if no agreement is reached in mediation.
Always keep your attorney informed about what occurred during the mediation process. This information will be helpful when preparing for any upcoming court hearings.