Most parents fighting over child custody would benefit from mediation. In general, having a neutral professional help you negotiate calmly can only help the situation.
Often, parents have to go to mediation. Many courts require parents in custody cases to attend. And many custody agreements stipulate that parents will go for any future disputes over their children. However, you can usually circumvent these requirements if a mediator feels their services wouldn’t be advisable in your situation.
The best candidates for custody mediation
You’ll especially feel the benefits of custody mediation if the other parent:
Since a mediator’s job is to help both parents see the facts and each other’s viewpoint, a mediator provides the most value when parents can’t see these things on their own.
Mediation is a strong option for both moms and dads. Although some worry about gender bias, the mediator has to remain neutral. Plus, the mediator can’t make decisions for you, so many parents prefer mediation over letting a judge decide their future — especially parents concerned about potential bias against fathers or against mothers in court.
Mediation is generally an affordable option for people at any income level. This is because low-income parents can receive free or discounted mediation from a legal aid center (or from their court). Middle and high-income parents often have to pay, but they’ll save many thousands of dollars if they reach an agreement that lets them avoid hiring a lawyer for litigation.
Who should not use custody mediation
Mediation is not ideal in every case.
If your dispute is unusually complex — maybe it involves criminal history, large assets or children with special needs — collaborative law may serve you better because it uses lawyers and specialized experts.
When parents have an abusive relationship or a power imbalance, one may be afraid of the other and unable to make independent decisions. In this scenario, more-formal negotiation involving lawyers (potentially the collaborative law process) may be better.
If you’re already working with a parenting coordinator, turn to them for help with disputes rather than a mediator. They know you and your history, and parenting coordinators have similar backgrounds to mediators.
If your dispute only arose recently, you may want to make a few attempts at resolving it without professional help before you decide to turn to a mediator.
Other circumstances that may arise
Some parents want to settle their disputes according to their religion’s guidelines. This doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t use mediation. Some mediators specialize in faith-based dispute resolution.
If your co-parent is hesitant to go to mediation, start with just one session. The mediator may be willing to contact them ahead of time to explain the process and answer questions. Remind your co-parent that they won’t be forced to agree to anything and that they can walk away at any point.
So… who should use custody mediation?
In short, the vast majority of parents who can’t reach an agreement on custody should at least try mediation — unless they have an abusive relationship or prefer another alternative dispute resolution method.
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