Caring dad drawing with two small kids at home, child custody after successful mediation.

When parents divorce or no longer share a household, child custody issues are among the most difficult to resolve. How much time will the children spend with each parent, and how will that parenting time be scheduled? How will parents continue to work together to make important decisions for the children, such as those regarding education and healthcare? For many families, child custody mediation is the way to resolve these complicated and contentious issues.

What is Child Custody Mediation?

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which a trained neutral third-party mediator facilitates your discussion of disputed custody issues and guides you toward resolutions that will be in your children’s best interest. Mediation is confidential and voluntary. A mediator will not reveal what occurs in mediation, nor make a decision about how you and your co-parent should resolve a dispute, although they may offer options..

Among the many issues you may address in child custody mediation include:

  • How many overnights the children will spend with each parent
  • How the children’s regular time with each parent will be scheduled
  • How the children will spend holidays, birthdays, and vacation time with parents
  • Who will make decisions regarding the children’s health care, education, and religion, and if both parents have decision-making authority, how they will resolve disputes

The mediator will work to keep you and your co-parent focused not on your own wishes or perceived rights, but on what is best for your children. “The best interest of the child” is the legal standard for deciding custody issues.

Typically, mediation will take a methodical approach to discussions: first, gathering information that is needed for any decision; second, identifying, prioritizing, and sharing each participant’s goals; third, brainstorming all possible options; and last, eliminating unworkable options until only one is left, which, if the process is done correctly, by definition is the best available option as all others have been eliminated.

Benefits of Mediation for Custody Matters

Maryland courts encourage parents to mediate child custody disputes, and can even order you to do so as long as there is not a history of domestic violence or abuse in the family. One of the reasons courts encourage mediation is that you and your co-parent know your family, its routine, and its needs better than any judge ever could. Therefore, you are better able to reach a custody agreement that will meet your family’s unique needs.

Another benefit of mediation for child custody is that you will probably be more satisfied with a resolution that you were involved in reaching, and you will be more likely to abide by it. That means less fighting over child-related issues, less need to return to court, and lower legal fees.

On a related note, child custody mediation recognizes that you and your co-parent will need to work together going forward to raise your children. The process of working together to find win-win solutions in mediation can lay a foundation for productive co-parenting in the future. The fact that mediation emphasizes finding solutions that benefit everyone, rather than defeating the other party, means that mediation is more likely to foster cordiality rather than hostility between parents. Having a more peaceful relationship with your co-parent is not only better for you, it’s better for your kids.

What to Expect From Child Custody Mediation

If you know how to prepare for child custody mediation, you will get more out of it and the process will be more efficient. Mediation requires you and your co-parent to do more of the “heavy lifting” in the decision-making process than having a court decide your custody dispute. But since that increased responsibility in the process offers you more control over the outcome, it’s usually worth it.

Child custody mediation requires you to think ahead about what you want to achieve, and more importantly, why. Mediation focuses more on meeting interests and needs (“I want to be an active participant in my child’s daily life”) than positions (“I want sole custody!”).

It’s not bad to envision the outcome that you want, but it’s more important to understand what’s driving the desire for that outcome. That’s how to “win” at child custody mediation. Often, it’s possible to serve the interests of not only the children, but both you and the other parent, with a mediated solution. On the other hand, arguing for your position usually means arguing against your co-parent; it’s a zero-sum game.

Who Can Attend Custody Mediation Sessions?

You can have your attorney attend mediation with you, but you and your spouse may also decide to mediate your child custody issues without your attorneys present. If you do, you will be able to have your attorneys review any agreement you reach before you sign it. The mediator will draw up a document that memorializes the agreement you have reached. You may resolve all issues in mediation, or just some of them, and it often takes more than one session to reach an agreement.

How Much Does Child Custody Mediation Cost?

The cost of mediation depends on the complexity of your case and the child custody mediator with whom you choose to work. The mediator, who is usually a family law attorney or a mental health professional, may charge a flat fee or an hourly rate. Often, both parents split the cost of the mediation. However, depending on your financial situation, the court may order one spouse to pay a greater portion of the mediation fee, or all of it. In some cases, when the court orders parents to go through child custody mediation, the court will waive the fee altogether.

The bottom line is, although there is usually a financial cost associated with child custody mediation, it may actually save you money in the long run by speeding the resolution of your divorce or custody matter and reducing the need to go back to court to modify or enforce orders. But the real savings you realize from a successful mediation is the reduction of hostility and stress between you and your co-parent—not to mention saving your children from having to watch their parents battle over them.

If you would like to learn more about child custody mediation in Maryland or the District of Columbia, please contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Child Custody