What to Know About Child Custody Mediation

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Your ex might inform you that they'd like you to meet with a child custody mediator and you might not know what to do.

First, it helps to have a clear understanding of what mediation is and what it can do for you. Mediation refers to the process of resolving legal disputes with the help of a professional mediator who acts as a neutral third party and facilitates discussion. Family law mediators, in particular, help parents work through child custody arrangements, parenting time and visitation, child support, and more. The benefits of working with a child custody mediator include an increased willingness—on the part of both parents—to follow the agreed upon arrangement and even saving money (compared to a contentious court battle).

Consider the Request

Start by considering whether you wish to try mediation with your ex. Unless you have been ordered by a judge to attend a mediation session, you're free to decide whether you want to participate or not. If you feel that mediation may help you and your ex work together to reach an agreement, then you may want to give it a try.

Respond in Writing

Once you’ve made a decision about whether to try mediation, you should inform your ex about that decision in writing. This way, if you are willing to mediate and later end up in court, you can show the judge that you were willing to cooperate when your ex asked you to give mediation a go. On the other hand, if you decline mediation, explain your reasoning in your response. As long as you have valid reasons to decline mediation, you won't be seen as uncooperative in the event that you later end up in court.

Some states allow parents to submit their initial request for mediation through the courts. If that is the case where you live, you would need to contact the court to respond to the request directly.

Know the Ramifications of Refusing to Participate

In the event that a judge has ordered you to participate in mediation, you must attend one session—at least—and demonstrate a willingness to make mediation work. Failure to do this much could cause the judge to hold you in contempt. In addition, refusing to participate in court-ordered mediation is likely to make the judge assigned to your case angry, which could easily work against you.

However, if you have not been ordered by the court to try mediation, then there really aren't any definitive legal ramifications to refusing to participate. If the other parent later brings you to court, he or she may try to bring up your refusal to mediate to the judge. However, mediation is something that both parents must agree to; one parent cannot force the other to participate in mediation.

Know What to Expect From Mediation

Mediation sessions typically last 2 to 3 hours. The session usually begins with the mediator making introductions and explaining his or her role. He or she will then ask you and your ex to briefly introduce yourselves, present your side of the story, and give a brief explanation of why you are seeking mediation.

You may also be asked to make a list of key issues that need to be addressed. At this point, the mediator will facilitate discussions about these issues and attempt to help you reach an agreement. Finally, if you and your ex are able to reach an agreement on any of the issues you're attempting to work through, and you wish to create a formal written agreement, the mediator will help do this.

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