Navigating Child Custody: Why a Mediator Could Be Your Best Solution

  •   |   Meghan Freed

child custody mediator conducting child custody mediationDecisions about child custody are critically important, and you want to get it right. Plus, you want to try to avoid disagreements and conflicts that can make things emotionally-charged and more difficult. This is where a child custody mediator can play a crucial role in helping you find a resolution.

A mediator acts as a neutral third party who helps divorcing or separating parents reach an agreement on child custody. They facilitate open and constructive communication, guiding both parents toward a mutually beneficial arrangement that prioritizes the children’s well-being.

Child custody mediation empowers parents to maintain control over the decisions made regarding their children, rather than leaving those decisions in the hands of a judge. The mediation process focuses on collaboration, open dialogue, and finding common ground. Importantly, everything you can do to spare your children from a prolonged or high-conflict situation can help them make the transition to two homes. Moreover, research has shown that children whose parents engage in mediation report higher levels of satisfaction with their post-divorce relationship with both parents.

If you find yourself in the midst of a child custody dispute, consider consulting a mediator. They can provide a supportive and constructive framework for navigating this child custody, helping you keep the focus on the well-being of both the children and their parents.

Understanding Child Custody

Child custody refers to the legal and practical relationship between parents or guardians and a child. It involves determining where the child will live, who will make decisions about their upbringing, and how parenting time or visitation will be structured. When a couple divorces or separates, parents need to decide custody formally.  It’s possible for parents to reach agreements on custody outside of court — including with a mediator — and submit that plan to the court for review and approval.  Then, it becomes an enforceable court order.

In most cases, child custody is categorized as either sole custody or joint custody. Sole custody means that one parent has full physical and legal custody of the child, while the other may have visitation rights. Joint custody, on the other hand, involves both parents sharing physical and legal custody, with the child spending time with each parent.  Joint custody is much more common in Connecticut.

Understanding the different types of child custody arrangements and parenting schedules is crucial when considering mediation. A mediator can help you explore the various options and find the best arrangement that suits the needs and interests of both parents and the children.

Read: What Is a Mediated Divorce in Connecticut?

The Mediation Process for Child Custody

Mediation is a voluntary process that allows parents to work together with the assistance of a neutral mediator to reach an agreement on child custody.  Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution, or “ADR.”  This means that it is an alternative to the traditional method of resolving your child custody case through litigation in court.

While your mediator should be an experienced Connecticut family law attorney, they are not acting in that capacity when they mediate.  They don’t represent either parent, and they don’t provide legal information — only advice.  The mediator helps facilitate communication and negotiation between the parents, helping design a plan to address everything that they need to figure out.

The child custody mediation process typically starts with an initial meeting, where the mediator explains their role and sets the guidelines for the sessions. Both parents are encouraged to share their perspectives and concerns regarding child custody and parenting schedules. The mediator then helps identify common ground and potential solutions.

Throughout the mediation sessions, the mediator guides the parents toward finding a mutually acceptable custody agreement by encouraging open and respectful communication. They may suggest creative solutions and provide information about legal requirements and child development considerations.

Once the parents reach an agreement, the mediator will draft a legally binding document that outlines the agreed-upon child custody arrangement and parenting schedule. Then, the parents submit it to the court for approval.

Read: What Is Mediation in Divorce?

Benefits of Using Mediator for Child Custody

Choosing a mediator for child custody disputes offers several potential benefits:

1. Control: Mediation allows parents to retain control over the decisions made regarding their children. Instead of leaving those decisions in the hands of a judge, the parents actively participate in the process and have a say in the final outcome of custody.

2. Collaboration: Mediation encourages collaboration and open dialogue between parents. It creates a cooperative environment where parents can work together to find solutions that meet the needs of both the children and the parents.

3. Privacy: Mediation is a private and confidential process. Unlike courtroom proceedings, which are a matter of public record, mediation allows parents to keep their personal matters out of the public eye.

4. Efficiency: Mediation is generally more cost-effective than going to court. It can reduce legal fees and other associated costs.  Mediation is also typically more efficient timewise than traditional divorce.  As long as both parents keep diligently moving forward, there is usually will be less overall time spent on the resolution process.

5. Reduced conflict: Mediation aims to minimize conflict between parents, which can have a positive impact on the children involved. Avoiding a contentious legal battle helps spare children (and parents) from the emotional turmoil and stress often associated with high-conflict custody disputes.

6. Child-centric approach: Mediation focuses on the best interests of the children. The mediator helps parents consider the unique needs of their children and family when crafting a custody arrangement, helping parents prioritize the kids’ well-being.

Read: The Benefits of Divorce Mediation

The Mediator’s Role in for Child Custody Mediations

A mediator plays a crucial role in child custody disputes by acting as a neutral facilitator. They do not take sides or make decisions on behalf of the parents or the children. Instead, their primary focus is on helping the parents communicate effectively, explore options, and reach a resolution that is in the best interest of the children.

The mediator creates a safe and supportive environment where both parents can express their concerns and needs without fear of judgment or hostility. They ensure that the discussions remain focused on the well-being of the children and help prevent conflicts from escalating.

By maintaining neutrality, the mediator can help parents see beyond their differences and find common ground. They encourage cooperation and collaboration, guiding the parents toward creating a parenting plan that addresses the children’s physical, emotional, and educational needs.

Read: The Role of a Divorce Mediator

Custody Dispute Challenges

Child custody disputes often come with a range of challenges that can make reaching an agreement difficult. Some common challenges include:

1. Communication breakdown: Poor communication between parents can hinder the decision-making process and lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. A mediator can help facilitate effective communication, giving both parents the opportunity to express their priorities.

2. Emotional tension: Divorce and separation can be emotionally charged for all parties involved. A mediator can help manage emotions during the mediation process, allowing parents to focus on finding practical solutions rather than getting caught up in personal grievances.

3. Complexity of legal processes: Navigating the legal system can be overwhelming, especially for parents who are unfamiliar with family law. A mediator can provide guidance and explain the legal requirements.

4. Inequality of power dynamics: Power imbalances between parents can make it challenging to reach a fair and equitable agreement. A mediator helps provide both parents with the opportunity to share their perspectives.  If the power dynamics are too intense, however, the mediator can also identify and share that meditation might not be the best process.

5. Child’s best interest: Determining what is truly in the best interest of the child can be subjective and even contentious. A mediator can help parents consider the child’s needs and preferences, taking into account factors such as their age, developmental stage, and relationship with each parent.  The mediator can also share how a court might view things to give the parents’ context.

A mediator’s role is to address these challenges head-on and guide parents toward a resolution that considers the unique circumstances of their situation.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Mediator for Child Custody Disputes

Choosing the right mediator is crucial for a successful child custody mediation process. Consider the following factors when selecting a mediator:

1. Experience and expertise: Look for a mediator with specific experience in child custody disputes. They should have a deep understanding of family law and child development to provide effective guidance.

2. Neutral and unbiased approach: A mediator should remain neutral and unbiased throughout the process. They should not favor one parent over the other or impose their personal opinions.  Note that when a mediator shares information that is true but that you don’t like, it doesn’t mean that they are taking the other parent’s side.

3. Communication and facilitation skills: Effective communication and facilitation skills are essential for a mediator. They should be able to create a safe space for open dialogue, actively listen to both parents, and help them navigate difficult conversations.

4. Empathy and understanding: A mediator should demonstrate empathy and understanding towards the challenges faced by both parents. This creates a supportive environment that encourages cooperation and collaboration.

Role of Your Lawyer During Child Custody Mediation

Having legal representation during child custody mediation is highly recommended. Your lawyer can provide valuable advice and support throughout the process.

Their role may include:

1. Legal guidance: Your mediation lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations under the law. They can explain the legal implications of various decisions and identify things you may not have considered.

2. Reviewing agreements: Your mediation lawyer can review any agreements reached during mediation to see whether they are fair, legally sound, and in your interest.  They will review the agreement for alignment with your rights and your children’s best interests.  Then, they will share their insights with you so that you can make funny, informed decisions.  This is why they are often referred to as “mediation review counsel.”

3. Advocacy: If negotiations become challenging or contentious, your lawyer can advocate for your interests and help you navigate any legal complexities that arise.

Having a lawyer by your side can provide you with peace of mind, knowing that you have professional support and guidance throughout the mediation process.

Read: Divorce Mediator vs Lawyer

Tips for Successful Mediation in Child Custody Disputes

To maximize the chances of a successful mediation process, consider the following tips:

1. Prepare in advance: Before attending mediation sessions, take the time to prepare yourself emotionally and gather any relevant documents or information that may be needed.

2. Focus on the children: Keep the best interests of the children at the forefront of your mind throughout the mediation process. Remember that the goal is to create a custody arrangement that promotes their well-being.

3. Be open to compromise: Mediation requires a willingness to find common ground and make compromises. Avoid being rigid in your demands and be open to exploring creative solutions that meet the needs of both parents and children.

4. Listen actively: Practice active listening during mediation sessions. Hear and acknowledge the concerns and perspectives of the other parent. This will help foster a cooperative environment and build trust.

5. Stay calm and respectful: Emotions may run high during child custody disputes, but it is crucial to remain calm and respectful during mediation. Engaging in personal attacks or hostile behavior will only hinder the progress toward a resolution.

6. Consider the long-term: When making decisions during mediation, consider the long-term implications for both yourself and the children involved. Think about how the agreed-upon custody arrangement will work in practice and how it will impact everyone involved.

7. Seek professional support: If you are finding it difficult to navigate the mediation process or handle the emotional aspects, consider seeking professional support from therapists or counselors experienced in family matters.

Read: Mediation and Gratitude: Lessons From a Former Client

Alternatives to Child Custody Mediation

While mediation is often a great method to resolve child custody disputes, it doesn’t work for everyone. Some alternatives to consider include:

  • Collaborative law: Collaborative law involves both parents and their respective attorneys working together to reach an agreement. This process encourages open communication and cooperation but your lawyer participates more actively.
  • Court proceedings: For some people, going through the court is the best option.  Just because you go the traditional litigation route doesn’t mean you’re going to wind up in a custody trial, though.  About 95% of cases are still resolved outside of court via negotiation.

Which way you should go will depend on your specific circumstances and the level of cooperation and trust between the parents.

Next Steps

Freed Marcroft’s family law team includes experienced child custody mediators and mediation attorneys.  Please contact us if you’d like to discuss working with us in either capacity.

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC