Nearly all states in the U.S utilize mediation in child custody disputes to help parents reach a settlement agreement that is in the best interests of the child or children. Family Code 3175 of the California state for example makes the mediation process mandatory before a hearing is scheduled.
Mediation can be voluntary between the parties involved in a battle, or court-ordered, where a judge appoints a mediator who is well-trained and experienced to handle matters regarding child custody. When it is ordered by the court, it is an obligation that requires both parents to appear before an appointed mediator, and try as much as possible to discuss their issues, and where possible make a parenting plan agreement.
Child custody can be an inflammatory process, especially when each parent wants to have their way in parenting and getting both legal and physical custody of the child.
When there is so much strife between the parents, the mediator may have separate mediation with each parent, and then make recommendations. This Process is commonly referred to as a shuttle session.
Parents are always advised to be open-minded when attending child custody mediation so they can have a fruitful discussion that centers on what is in the best interests of the child rather than on their own interests.
Preparing for child custody mediation
If you have been ordered by the court to meet with a mediator, or you have made an agreement with your ex-spouse to voluntarily have a private mediator, it is a process that you need to prepare for in advance. You don’t want to look anxious or unprepared in front of your mediator or your ex-spouse since there are a lot of issues to be addressed. Therefore, to prepare well for child custody mediation, you will need to do the following:
Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is a way to relax your mind. With a relaxed mind, you will be able to think clearly and answer questions properly. Remember, the mediation process can also be stressful and thus the need for enough rest before any mediation sessions is vital.
Be courteous and professional
Regardless of how much strive or animosity you hold towards each other, you would rather focus on the children rather than re-hashing your past. Think of your children more than the other spouse, and in your talks, learn to be polite, courteous, and professional. If your ex-spouse at some point talks harshly, don’t feed the fire, always stay calm and be polite in your responses.
Be willing to compromise
Compromising means giving way to better ideas, IT DOES NOT MEAN GIVING IN OR GIVING UP.
If your ex-spouse or a mediator has a better parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child or children, be willing to put their arrangements into consideration. Also, identify the priorities that you want to be addressed during the mediation process, and be flexible to also allow for the priorities of the other party, if they are of more weight than yours.
You need to let go of negative feelings about your ex and focus on what works for the child. Compromising will help you and your ex-spouse arrive at common ground on issues that you may not agree on.
Try not to be fixed on one parenting plan since it may not work for the other parent or the best interests of the child. You need to be flexible to a certain extent.
Try to brainstorm all the possible options before attending the sessions… This will give you a head start on some objections that may come up, and how you would address them.
This may work to make things easier since your ex may also have a parenting plan or schedule, where, together with your mediator, you can analyze and merge to see whether the outcome works for the best interests of the child, and is suitable for both of you or not.
You need to have objectives and goals prepared that you want. Write down how you want the parenting plan to look, and any issues that are pertinent to your situation or absolute dealbreakers.
- What nights do you want the kids to stay with you?
- What holidays are important for you to have?
- Do you vacation in the Winter or Summer?
- Who do you trust to Babysit?
- Who will pay for Sports or Dance Class?
Setting goals will also show that you are confident about what you want for your child or children.
Arrive ahead of time
Definitely don’t be late, but also try to be early to the venue. It is always best practice to arrive 15 minutes before the session so that you can relax and have a clear mind when entering the mediation room. This also gives you time to use the washroom and maybe get a drink before starting.
If you have to travel far to meet with the mediator, then make prior arrangements to start traveling early. Make sure to leave soon enough to drop the children at a sitter, as they should NEVER attend a mediation with the parents.
Remember, being late for mediation that has been ordered by the court may impact your case negatively.
Carry all the necessary documents
If there are any documents that you may need to carry to facilitate discussion, then don’t forget them at home. These may include medical or educational records among other documents. Even if you think your Ex will be bringing them, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup copy.
It is good to have all the necessary documents so that you and your ex-spouse together with your mediator can analyze them to come up with a parenting plan that works best for the child or children.
Seek professional help
Most child custody battles can be very demanding and stressful.
You or your ex-spouse may need to seek professional help such as a Psychologist or Family Law Specialist to understand your parenting issues better and come up with possible solutions. Do not hesitate to do a dry run with a Family Law Specialist if you feel lost on how to proceed. This might cost you an hour of your time and money, but it will better prepare you for the Mediation environment.
Remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
If there are some mental health issues present in one of the parents that could affect the child’s wellbeing, then they should consult with a Psychologist to help advise on an appropriate parenting plan.
Preparation is a great way to reap maximum benefits out of a mediation process, and possibly to have common grounds with your ex-spouse. As the saying goes, failure to plan is a plan to fail. Therefore, you should embrace these tips when preparing to meet with a mediator with the other parent regarding a child custody matter.