Mediation in a Child Custody Case: Preparation Goes Along Way
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The goal of the mediator is to help the parties reach an agreement on custody and visitation. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the mediator will make recommendations to the court based on information gathered by the mediator during the mediation session from both parents and sometimes the minor children. When the parties to a custody dispute are not able to reach an amicable agreement, the initial mediator recommendation can have a significant and lasting impact on child custody and visitation orders. The initial custody arrangement can create momentum for one parent because courts favor stability for children. They do not like to constantly move the children around and make repeated changes to custody arrangements. You should never walk into a custody mediation without preparing to make your case for what you believe is in the best interest of your children.
Even though any relevant information will help the mediator make an informed decision, some types of evidence are obviously more important to a child custody mediator than others. If there has been a history of domestic violence or drug use by either parent, this information carries great weight with a custody mediator and the court. Unsupported allegations may be dismissed as he said she said allegations. Any documents supporting these allegations should be provided to the mediator. These documents can include an incident report, police report, and/or records of arrest or conviction. Most can usually be obtained from the police or the court through an open records request. Other serious convictions may also be relevant, especially if they show a propensity toward violence or reckless conduct. DUIs, for example, suggest the other parent may engage in risky behavior that puts the children at risk. Any documents provided to the mediator may end up as exhibits to the mediators report and become evidence supporting their recommendations.
School records can also carry a lot of weight with a child custody mediator. An affidavit or sworn statement from your childs teacher attesting to your involvement or the other parents lack of involvement with the school also can be influential. If your child is currently residing with you and doing well in school, the childs school records should also be provided to the mediator. The school provides an objective measure of your childs well being and thereby, your positive influence on your child. If a child is doing well in school, the mediator and court will typically refrain from making significant changes in their living arrangements.
A parents availability to spend time with the minor children also carries a great deal of weight with a mediator. It is not uncommon for a parent to go into mediation and request 50-50 custody when ones work schedule makes such an arrangement unrealistic. A parent who makes this request often plans to leave the child with a babysitter or grandparent while the parent is working. Mediators and courts prefer to have minor children with a parent, rather than a babysitter or other family member. If one parent works long hours or is frequently on the road and out of town, the other parent should provide documentation to establish this with a mediator. When the other parent with the extensive work schedule unreasonably insists on a 50-50 custody arrangement and argues the child can be with a babysitter or grandparent, the mediator will view their actions as a transparent attempt to impact child support rather that a plan that is intended to be in the minor childs best interest.
Your states family code and your jurisdictions local rules will determine the extent the mediation will control your child custody issues. Active involvement with solid and verifiable information will help the mediator make recommendations that are in the best interest of your child. Consult a qualified family law attorney in your area to assist you with each step in the process of establishing your child custody rights.