Putting Your Heads Together: Preparing for Mediation over Child Custody
Determining child custody can be the most difficult and emotionally straining portion of negotiations with a former spouse. How much time a child spends with each parent and where they will live are undoubtedly major decisions and it’s important to keep emotions in check and to be fully prepared for every important step of the decision making process.
Going into a child custody mediation, some nervousness is completely natural, but these discussions are meant to bring about the decision that is in the best interest of the child and will offer them the greatest benefit while taking as little as possible away from either parent. In most scenarios, it is best for parents to come to an agreement without the help of a mediator, or in cases where the two parties are completely deadlocked, a Court Order.
The first, and most important thing to remember, is that the mediator’s entire job is to keep the bitterness between the parties to a minimum and encourage a healthy and fair decision. What occurs during the mediation can have an effect on every other remaining decision made in the proceedings, so there’s no lie in stating cooler heads generally prevail.
Prior to any mediation or any meeting with the opposite side, it is always good advice to relax beforehand and ensure you get plenty of rest. It seems like a basic suggestion, but reducing any potential stress or aggravation can make an immense difference when dealing with a sensitive situation like child custody. Ensure that you have no other meetings or obligations the day of the mediation and leave all the anger and stress outside the door when you go into mediation. Your attorney is there to support and assist you as well, so don’t be afraid to be open with them on how you are feeling about mediation.
Cooperation with the mediator can help them determine the best way to move forward, and telling the truth along with divulging all relevant details will help them determine the best course of action, and will help get your opinion across more effectively.
Often, mediators will ask that you prepare a parenting proposal, suggesting potential custody schedules for the children. It is important to take the other parent’s feelings and logistics into consideration when creating the schedule. A biased or unreasonable schedule can do much more harm than just being rejected outright. The more you can show you are placing your child’s best interests first, the heavier weight your opinions and arguments will carry during mediation and any potential evaluations.
When putting together your parenting proposal, it is best to consult with your attorney to ensure that all the details of the child or children’s lives are considered and that their needs are met. Major flaws in parenting plans can include an inability to properly structure custody switches at proper times, failing to take into account schooling or other scheduling concerns and letting acrimony dictate unreasonable schedules, like asking someone to pick up their children in the morning when their work schedule keeps them occupied until the afternoon.
Being prepared is the best way to obtain a favorable result from mediation. The more information you have readily available, the more willing you are to answer questions efficiently and properly. Working with your attorney is the best way to prepare for mediation. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions, as there are numerous terms that can be confusing and you want to be able to understand any terminology presented by the mediator. Knowledge is power and the party that is most prepared often comes off with the better result.
Another common misconception involving mediation is that judges, evaluators and mediators will automatically favor women and lean towards giving them full custody. Mediators do not make decisions based on any source of bias and instead, focus on the accessibility of both parents to the child and ensuring a safe and healthy environment for the child, both emotionally and physically. Their main goal is to make sure that both parents are able to contribute positively to the child’s relationship and if so, ensure that both have as close to equal access as possible.
Mediators are extremely pro family and encourage situations where the family can remain as close to the prior status quo as possible. They are aware of the intense stress you and your children may be under due to the divorce, and generally believe that access to both parents is the best basic course of action.
They will also be extremely patient and thorough during the mediation process, starting with an agenda covering each topic that will be discussed and then concluding each topic with an open discussion from each side. The mediator will also provide his or her own advice to help both sides come to an amicable and fair agreement. It is important to remember that even if it seems like the mediator is favoring the other side, they are impartial and will try to offer advice that supports a fair and neutral solution.
Finally, it is important to remember that this mediation is centered on custody of the child. This isn’t a time to bring up support payments or other issues that have nothing to do with the custody or welfare of the child. Also, every child’s life is different, so standard custody schedules may not work. When determining a final schedule, take into account both sides and be patient and understanding when working out a schedule for both you and your former spouse. While you and your former partner may still be at odds, keep in mind that a child should not be drawn into arguments, should not be used as a “bargaining chip” and that he or she deserves equal time with both parents in a supportive and healthy environment.
If you approach mediation with a calm and collected attitude and take the time to prepare with your attorney, it is much more likely the mediator will present a more favorable decision for the child, helping them to maintain the best possible situation during what must be a very difficult time. Developing a proper plan through mediation and attorney planning is the best solution to ensure your child remains in a happy and stable situation.