When you are deciding whether to use mediation to resolve your custody dispute, consider these alternatives.
If you already have an agreement with the other parent, you probably don’t need to use any of these options. However, you may still like to meet with a mediator to make sure you haven’t forgotten to discuss any relevant issues.
1. Collaborative law
A collaborative lawyer looks out for their client while working on solutions that benefit both parents. To use collaborative law, each parent must hire their own lawyer trained in the collaborative approach.
The lawyers sign a contract committing to keep your case out of court — and if the case does have to go to court because negotiations fail, they cannot represent you there. This lessens the threat of litigation.
You may want to hire a collaborative lawyer if you need more help reaching an agreement than mediation provides. Collaborative lawyers work with a team of professionals — like divorce coaches and child experts — so that parents have a support system during negotiations. Negotiations tend to spread over multiple months.
Due to the extra people and time involved, the collaborative process costs much more than mediation. But it can still save you money compared to going to trial.
Cooperative law is a similar option with two major differences: cooperative lawyers don’t need special training, and they can continue with you to trial if negotiations fail.
2. Parenting coordination
Another option during a custody dispute is parenting coordination.
A parenting coordinator (PC) helps parents find common ground as a mediator does, but they often work with the parents consistently over several years. This allows them to jump in as new disagreements arise, as well as provide the parents with guidance on communication skills, child development and more.
A PC usually gets involved after a court case has been finalized (and often by court order). However, they can work with parents before that. In some states, parents can agree to let a PC make decisions for them when they reach a standstill.
Parenting coordination costs more than mediation because of the additional time involved. It’s usually reserved for especially combative relationships.
3. Early neutral evaluation
Some courts offer an alternative dispute resolution method called early neutral evaluation (ENE). Some may even require an ENE for custody cases.
In this method a judge or lawyer uninvolved in your case tells you how your judge is likely to rule. This happens relatively early in the litigation process to encourage parents to settle quickly. Unlike in mediation, there’s little to no time spent bringing the parents toward common ground.
In certain locations, the evaluator submits their analysis to the court, which could ultimately influence your judge’s ruling.
Evaluations typically occur in half- or full-day sessions, and they usually cost several hundred dollars.
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