Child custody mediation allows parents to stay in complete control of their children’s future rather than a judge deciding the details of how the parents will share time and care for them.
Mediation helps co-parents create custody plans and parenting schedules that fit their unique situation. Not only can you avoid slow-moving (and expensive) court systems, but most importantly, custody mediation puts your child(ren)’s well-being at the forefront of every conversation.
After helping thousands of families through the mediation process, we know that a little preparation goes a long way toward achieving the best possible results.
In this article, we’ll show you how to find a good custody mediator, walk you through the topics discussed during custody mediation, and explain what you need to bring to meetings.
Plus, we’ll unveil some little-known pro tips for successful mediation.
What is child custody mediation?
During child custody mediation, the co-parents meet with a professional mediator who will facilitate respectful and productive discussion around custody matters.
The mediator helps the co-parents reach agreements on everything related to child custody, including legal custody, physical custody, and visitation arrangements.
How is custody mediation different from going to court?
Child custody is a sensitive issue for many parents. Their care and passion often translate to areas of conflict due to the many emotions they are likely experiencing. And in a conflict-driven court process, more conflict means more attorney’s fees and more time spent in court.
On the other hand, the mediation process typically takes less time and costs less. It helps co-parents avoid the financial strain of a lengthy court process and complete their process at their own pace.
A caring, professional mediator can help you both to stay focused on the needs of your children during your mediation meetings. They will ensure you and your co-parent both feel heard, leading to agreements that you are both more likely to appreciate and follow.
How to find a good mediator
An experienced mediator creates a safe, comfortable environment and gives you important information to help navigate the discussion. They will help you focus on reaching an agreement that maximizes your children’s well-being while also meeting your and your co-parent’s needs.
The first step is to find a mediator who:
- specializes in child custody, divorce, and legal separation issues;
- understands common coping strategies children may exhibit during their parents’ separation;
- ensures each necessary topic is discussed;
- shares your desire to prioritize the needs of your children;
- guides you as you create a thorough and creative Parenting Plan; and
- helps you build a foundation for healthy co-parenting.
Below, we’ll discuss some other factors to consider when looking for a good mediator.
Research credentials and expertise
Mediators can be — but don’t have to be — attorneys.
When the mediator has experience in divorce/family law, as a lawyer or other legal professional, it can help move the process along more quickly in legally complicated cases.
Mediators come from many fields of study, including:
- social services;
- conflict resolution;
- criminal justice; and
- public policy.
If necessary, there are mediators who specialize in specific areas, such as:
- high conflict;
- domestic abuse;
- substance abuse;
- children with special needs; or
- long-distance and international custody agreements.
Check reviews and testimonials
When you are selecting a mediator, it is helpful to look at reviews and testimonials. They can help you confirm positive client experiences and give you a glimpse into their process.
Look for particular patterns or experiences that describe the mediator as:
- having the traits you are looking for;
- having successfully mediated challenging cases;
- having a primary goal of protecting children;
- having made a difficult process much easier for both parents; and
- having assisted with the same issues as those in your situation.
Schedule a free consultation to speak with the mediator beforehand
Good mediators will happily give you the information you need to make the best decision for your family. They’ll offer a free consultation to discuss your situation and ask questions to determine whether they fit your needs.
Aurit Center Certified Mediators make this process as easy as possible for you by offering all services online. It is as simple as scheduling a consultation and clicking on a link in an email at the time of the meeting.
Mediation specialists are also on hand to assist you at any time. Speaking with a mediator can help you get to know their style and begin to develop rapport while you get answers to your questions.
It can be helpful to meet with multiple mediators to gather information about their processes, methods, specializations, and experience.
Understand the fee structure
A flat-fee structure, like the one used by Aurit Center Certified Mediators, supports clients’ financial stability while giving them control of the length and structure of their process.
There is no incentive to create unnecessary conflict or extend the process to charge more, as there often is with attorney hourly billing. As a result, you spend less and are able to establish a stronger financial foundation for both of you moving forward. One parent may offer to pay the flat fee, or the parents can agree to split the fee however they like.
“The Aurit Center is the only mediation firm in the nation that offers 12-month, 0% interest payment plans where you can pay the flat fee over 12 months at 0% interest.”
What to bring to custody mediation
Many pieces of information go into creating a child-first Parenting Plan that satisfies both parents. Therefore, the mediator or either parent may request that certain documents be brought to mediation for reference and to assist in coordination.
Here are some items that may be used:
- calendars: The visitation schedule, drop-off/pick-up schedules, school holiday schedules, extracurricular activity schedules, etc.;
- financial records: Financial disclosures and child support-related information (health insurance premiums, education expenses, and housing);
- prior agreements: Past agreements on certain issues, such as previous mediation sessions, since they can help the meetings stay on topic;
- legal documents: Including any ordered parenting time agreements; and
- a Parenting Plan proposal: A plan you could agree to ahead of time to help speed up the discussion and make reaching an agreement in mediation even easier.
Don’t worry — you probably won’t need all of that information for your first session. Your mediator will let you and your co-parent know what you need to bring.
What to discuss in child mediation
You and your co-parent will discuss a variety of topics during mediation. Your mediator will raise each of these issues, and the issues’ importance can vary by situation.
With that said, let’s review several items you will likely discuss during child custody mediation.
Parenting time and visitation
Parenting time, also referred to as visitation, refers to the schedules that detail when your child(ren) will be in each parent’s home. Holidays, vacations, and other special circumstances will be addressed to avoid confusion and create consistency in the child(ren)’s life.
Parents will discuss an issue called the right of first refusal. This outlines when a parent must offer the other parent the opportunity to care for the child before the former seeks other childcare arrangements. Some parents feel passionately about including such an agreement in their Parenting Plan, while others choose not to; it is 100% customizable to your preferences and family’s needs.
Custody and decision-making
Custody is among the most important aspects of child custody mediation. There are two broad types:
- Physical custody: This refers to where your child(ren) will live and what portion of their time will be spent with each parent. For joint custody, this may be an even, 50/50 split or an uneven split, where more time is spent with one parent than the other. It may also be determined that one parent should have sole physical custody — if, for instance, the other parent lives far away.
- Legal custody: The mediator will help you both to decide who will make which important decisions regarding the child(ren). One parent may receive sole legal custody, making them responsible for all major decisions regarding the child, or both parents may receive joint legal custody. Major decisions might include medical, educational, and religious decisions. In mediation, parents can choose to share decision-making however they see fit.
Child-relevant financial issues
Child support helps provide sufficient financial resources for the child. Each parent provides the mediator with a financial disclosure detailing their income and expenses.
This information, alongside custody arrangements, helps parents calculate child support payments that will cover the child’s needs and provide financial stability in both homes.
Child mediation covers many aspects of the child(ren)’s education, including the following questions:
- who will enroll the child(ren) in school and extracurriculars;
- how the child(ren) will get to and from school and extracurriculars;
- who will transport the child(ren) to and from school if walking or riding the bus is not viable;
- how expenses related to school and extracurriculars will be covered;
- which school the child(ren) will attend if their parents live in different districts or areas;
- which parent will meet with teachers during parent-teacher conferences; and
- how disagreements about the child(ren)’s education will be resolved in a way that prioritizes the child(ren)’s success.
Health and medical care
Here are a few items regarding your child(ren)’s health and medical care that may be discussed during mediation:
- Division of responsibility or plan for coordinating care: Who will schedule doctor’s appointments, retrieve medications, and coordinate provider visits?
- Medical decision-making authority: Who will make medical decisions, such as the selection of providers, medications, treatments, and procedures?
- Concerns or emergencies: How are emergency health issues and hospitalizations to be handled? How will these matters be communicated?
- Ongoing care for chronic illness: How does each parent contribute to their child(ren)’s care — or, if required, their ongoing care? How will communications, schedules, and visits with providers be handled?
Religious and cultural matters
Cultural and religious traditions can give parents and their children a sense of identity. However, these issues can be sensitive, especially if the parents come from different cultural or religious backgrounds.
Thus, during mediation, you may want to discuss your expectations and desires for your child’s religious and cultural upbringing.
For instance, you should determine the following:
- who will make religious decisions for the child(ren);
- which religious tradition or affiliation, if any, the child(ren) will grow up in;
- which religious institution(s) the child(ren) will attend;
- how religious service attendance will be coordinated;
- how parents with different religious beliefs or cultural backgrounds will ensure their child(ren) receives balanced exposure to each;
- how a situation such as a parent converting to a different religion and wanting the child(ren) to be part of that new affiliation will be handled;
- whether the child(ren) will attend religious education classes and who will transport them to those classes;
- how religious and cultural holidays will be celebrated;
- how schedules will be adapted around religious holidays; and
- how conflicts around any of these issues will be resolved.
Some parents may choose not to have these discussions in mediation, while others may request that only some of these topics be discussed. It’s up to you and your co-parent to decide what makes sense in your specific circumstances.
If you have a child (or children) with special needs, you will want to discuss how best to meet their needs in mediation. Working with a mediator who has experience helping parents of children with special needs can offer a lot of support and guidance during this discussion.
Issues that you may discuss include the following:
- in- and out-of-home appointments;
- medication and medical supply tracking;
- ongoing diagnostics;
- special activities; and
- rehabilitative, physical, occupational, or psychological therapies.
Travel and relocation
If you or your co-parent are considering a relocation, the following questions might be discussed:
- what kind of relocation will be allowable;
- how much notice will be necessary;
- how often communications (phone, email, etc.) will occur, and how they will be handled;
- how long the co-parent will have to respond to the notice;
- who will be responsible for the costs; and
- who will be responsible for traveling with the kids to and from visits.
Your professional mediator will help you and your co-parent establish parental communication guidelines so that you can maintain a smooth and amicable co-parenting relationship.
Here are some questions/issues that may be discussed:
- your primary form of communication (phone, text, email, etc.);
- whether you will have a scheduled time to check in with one another, such as a bi-annual review to determine what changes, if any, might make things easier for both the kids and yourselves;
- what information you will agree to share with your kids;
- whether you will agree not to disparage one another to your kids; and
- whether you will agree not to communicate through your kids.
Tips for a successful mediation
During mediation, you can rely upon your mediator to lead you every step of the way and to keep the discussion professional and respectful.
With that in mind, here are a few tips you can follow for a smooth and successful mediation:
Stay focused on your child(ren)
Child custody mediation prioritizes the best interests of your child(ren). Remember that you and your co-parent are choosing mediation because you care about and want to focus on the kids.
Do your best to maintain a positive attitude
A positive attitude can help reduce conflict so that you can work through the mediation process as efficiently as desired.
“Think of your co-parent as just that — a co-parent — instead of thinking of them as your former partner.”
It is helpful to keep the conversation future-focused to ensure a smoother transition to healthy and collaborative co-parenting after the separation.
Be prepared to compromise
Since the purpose of mediation is to find an agreement that satisfies both parties, do your best to stay open to compromise. Your mediator will guide a process that ensures you both have a voice, and you will also have the opportunity to review agreements with an attorney before signing.
Collaborating to reach agreements that meet both of your needs will benefit your family well into the future. Parents who personalize their Parenting Plan in mediation are more likely to follow these agreements afterward, which protects the co-parenting relationship and the well-being of their child(ren).
Your Aurit Center Certified Mediator will facilitate respectful discussions, explain your options, and explore creative solutions to help you reach agreements that best meet your child(ren)’s unique needs.
Thoroughly review the agreement
Carefully walk through the agreement with the mediator. Take your time and ask questions.
Working with a mediator who offers a flat fee is helpful because parents can relax and take as much time as needed without worrying about having to pay extra.
|Pro tips to make the most of your mediation sessions|
|Stay focused on what’s best for your child(ren)|
|Maintain a positive mindset|
|Be prepared to compromise|
|Carefully review the terms of your agreement|
Child custody mediation allows for a collaborative approach to what would likely be very challenging conversations in a court context. Using the information we have provided, you can find the right mediator to help you and your co-parent work through every children-related issue while focusing on and protecting your children’s mental and emotional well-being.
Aurit Center Certified Mediators focus on creating a child-centric custody arrangement that both parties feel is acceptable. Your family can avoid the stress and pain of litigation and focus on a healthy and bright future.
Schedule a free consultation to learn how we can help you and your co-parent collaborate on a custody arrangement that puts your children first.