Child custody is a sensitive matter that requires much care and consideration. When choosing a family mediator, parents need to be certain that the professional is equipped to help them create a plan for raising their children.
Here are some questions you should ask to make sure you've found the right mediation professional.
How long have you been a family mediator?
While someone may have the credentials to be a mediator, that doesn't mean they have experience in helping families.
A mediator who has been handling family cases for several years knows how to help you negotiate a parenting plan that will benefit children and parents alike. Plus, they know how to write the terms of your agreement into a court-acceptable document.
How much do you charge?
Cost is a deciding factor for many parents. Knowing that services are available at an affordable price point could incentivize you and the other parent to resolve your case outside of court.
Also, inquire as to whether you have to pay a retainer fee up-front to reserve a set number of hours.
What's your approach?
Every mediator has a process. Make sure their method suits your current situation and desired outcome. Even before you speak to the mediator, look at their website and any online reviews to get a feel for their approach.
For example, if you don't get along with the other parent well enough to have a discussion, you might prefer a mediator who will put you in separate rooms. If your goal is to establish a co-parenting relationship, a mediator who will work on improving communication between parents will be more desirable.
Will my kids be involved?
It's good to know ahead of time whether your child will participate in the mediation process. Some mediators speak to the kids to figure out how they're feeling and what custody arrangement would most benefit them. Your child might be uncomfortable with this or be happy to share their opinion.
How long will it take?
The length of the process tends to vary case by case, but some mediators can give you an estimate. Divorce cases take longer to resolve than child custody-only cases since they include other issues like property.
One benefit of mediation is that mediators, unlike courts, are often flexible and can schedule sessions around your availability. But some mediators may have more openings than others or put less emphasis on a quick resolution. Either way, mediation is generally shorter than the length of a custody case.
At the end of mediation, you'll either have an agreement or issues to take to court.
If there's a settlement, the mediator usually writes the terms into a parenting plan. It's highly recommended that you file this with the court so you can get a court order. Without a custody order, there are no legal repercussions for disobeying the terms of the agreement. You might want to return to the mediator if you have any disagreements or need to modify your parenting plan.
If you need to go to trial, having a record that you attended mediation could help your case. When awarding custody, courts favor the parent who is willing to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent. Trying mediation shows that you're capable of extending an olive branch to the other parent.