Divorce is a complicated process, and child custody disputes are not uncommon. In fact, they are one of the most common sources of conflict between divorcing couples. Most people think that to settle child custody matters, they have to go through the courts and fight; however, there are other ways to handle these matters.
One of these alternatives is mediation. Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which a mediator facilitates a conversation between the parents to reach an agreement. Most courts encourage parents to use mediation to solve child custody disputes and come to an agreement.
Benefits of mediation
The process of mediation is different from going to court. Mediation is less formal and more flexible. It is also not binding, which means that unless the parties come to an agreement and sign it, they can walk away at any time.
None of what is discussed in mediation can harm any of the parties’ cases in court. It also means that each party can go to court if they think they are not getting what they want from mediation.
Communication between the parents
Most importantly, mediation aims to facilitate open communication, moderate a structured conversation and help parents learn how to solve problems between them so they can move forward in a way that preserves the relationship.
Remember that the most critical aim of mediation and the courts is to make decisions based on the child’s best interests.
How does mediation work?
Mediation is a process that goes in stages. Even though every mediator has their own way of doing things, the most common steps are:
- Initial meeting and disclosures
- Identifying the underlying issues
- Developing a parenting plan
- Reaching an agreement
- Filing that agreement with the court
Of course, every mediation is non-binding, and the parties are never obligated to reach an agreement. Even in court-mandated mediation, the parties can decline and go to trial.
However, in most family law courts, the parents must at least attempt to settle issues through mediation.
Can a mediation agreement become legally binding?
If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator or the parties’ attorneys can file the agreement with the court, which can become legally binding.
Before going into mediation, it is critical to know that the best outcomes are those where the parents are willing to cooperate and have their child’s best interests in mind first and foremost.