Understanding how child custody mediation works – and who can or should attend the sessions – could be your key to the life you deserve with your child. Here is what you need to know:
- Child custody mediation sessions, a facilitated conversation between the two parties battling for custody and the mediator;
- People who NEED to be at the sessions – You, the ex, a Mediator and depending on the jurisdiction and county lawyers are either required, prohibited or optional; And
- Your children should NOT attend the sessions, this is meant to be a time where you can be open and honest without worrying about the kids and what you can or cannot say in front of them.
What Is Child Custody Mediation?
So, first things first: What is child custody mediation?
In Maryland, judges can order that you meet with your ex with a neutral third-party present to discuss child custody – to avoid wasting the court’s time if it can be settled otherwise. You can also simply opt for mediation with a friendly ex right off the bat, before even filing for custody.
Deciding custody without going through the formal court system is a luxury that you can have … if you approach mediation correctly.
Use child custody mediation as an opportunity to talk with your ex one-on-one to express how much you would like to spend time with your children.
Maryland is a state that could order child custody mediation before the court date, but will not if there are allegations of domestic abuse.
For a mediation to “count” towards child custody, it must:
- Occur over at least 2 sessions;
- Total at least 4 hours of negotiations; and
- Use a mediator selected from a list of qualified state mediators, which can include family law attorneys or other professionals.
During mediation, the child’s parents and whatever party is interested in gaining custody – and has a legal leg to stand on – comes together with the mediator. These “other parties” could include grandparents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, etc.
In a mediation session, the relevant parties discuss either who will receive complete child custody or how they will split up custody between them. Mediation is private because you are meant to be as honest and open as possible with what you want and expect with your ex.
What happens or is said in mediation is confidential, unless there are allegations of child abuse, elder abuse, abuse of vulnerable adults, or threats of harm to self or others is discussed during a session.
The Mediator’s Role in Child Custody Meetings
The mediator will not directly make decisions for the couple. The only decision that a mediator will make is who is able to attend.
However, mediators are vital to a mediation’s success. They bring up and identify both the issues and then the desires of all parties. They help participants explore a series of alternatives and compromises. Finally, the mediator will use all previous information to suggest the most cohesive agreement that gives each party the best of what they want, in conjunction with the best interest of the child.
Many couples who meet with a mediator feel as though it empowers them to be able to make their own decisions outside of court orders.
Ultimately, if the involved parties cannot come to an agreement – even with a mediator – then the decision goes to court to be decided by a judge or magistrate.
Who Should – And Should Not – Attend Child Custody Mediation
The list of who should attend mediation is the easiest to compile:
- Anyone with a legal claim to custody of the child
- The mediator
- Attorneys – depending on jurisdiction; some require their presence others prohibit them, while some it is optional
That’s it. Everyone else is just a distraction at best, and harmful to your case at worse.
- If a relative wants to attend for “moral support” but does not have a potential legal claim to custody, then don’t bring them. They have no business witnessing confidential, intensely private conversations at mediation.
- New boyfriends or girlfriends would just invite problems with your ex, and not productively contribute toward the mediation. (The exception would be a legally married spouse, who could help claim custody – either legal or physical – of their spouse’s children.)
- In jurisdictions where lawyers are not allowed to attend, they can advise their clients on the best approaches and arguments to take during the session. Again, since these meetings are confidential, having lawyers for both parties in the room can lead to breaches of confidentiality – and you’re trying to avoid the legal hassle, anyway.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is, do NOT bring your children to mediation sessions.
Do Not Bring Children to Mediation!
There is no reason for the minor child to be there in the room, potentially forced to choose between people they love.
If they have an independently expressed desire for a particular custody solution, then the parties can bring in signed letters for consideration during the mediation. The child does not need to be present to make their wishes known.
What is said during a mediation session can be hurtful for children to know about their parents. They should be protected and insulated from the legal situation at all costs.
The whole point of mediation sessions is to avoid the emotional scarring and expense of going to court. By bringing children to mediation, you risk worsening the process – or worsening their mental health.
Should I Attend a Child Custody Mediation Session?
Are you a parent or guardian of the child whose custody is being determined? Then yes, you should go. If you are neither of those things, you should not.
Child custody mediation attempts to change the “win-lose” custody situation into a “win-win,” so it is in your best interest to attend and make mediation work as best you can – if your lawyer or the court suggests it.
Studies show that families that choose the route of private mediation instead of litigation in court have improved future relationships.
Settling during mediation will save you court costs, too. Court fees, lawyers, witnesses, and lost time with your children quickly add up during a custody battle.
On the other hand, mediator’s rates range from $50 to $140 an hour. If you can resolve custody privately, then you’ll save thousands of dollars.
Using mediation can make all the difference for you and your family’s future. If you’re considering mediation – or want help positioning your custody case in the best light – then please reach out for a free initial consultation. We’re happy to point you in the right direction as the advocate and defender your child deserves.