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Using Mediation to Resolve Child Custody Disputes
A dispute over custody of a child can be one of the most heart-wrenching issues parents face. More and more, courts are viewing child custody mediation as a chance for each parent to be heard and for the childs best interests to be the primary concern.
The biggest benefit of mediation is that it is a nonadversarial, confidential process. Parents are guided by the mediator to reach an agreement about how to best meet the need of their child to spend time with each parent.
The mediator in a child custody case is a neutral third party, much like a judge. But instead of simply hearing evidence and making a decision for the parents, the mediator will guide the parents in thinking about the best interest of the child and how the parents can best cooperate with each other to meet the childs needs.
Among the common issues in child custody mediation are:
- One parents new desire to take on a larger role in parenting the child
- Uniform rules and discipline between the parents homes
- Child care when the custodial parent is temporarily unavailable
- Long-distance relationships when one parent lives far away from the child
- Inter-family relationships when one or both parents remarry
The cooperative nature of child custody mediation allows the parents more flexibility to design a custody schedule that works for all family members. Mediation is also faster and cheaper than litigation in most cases and tends to foster better cooperation between parents in the future when new issues arise.
The Child Custody Mediation Process
Many child custody attorneys are familiar with mediation, and some states even require the parents to try mediation before their child custody issues can be brought before a judge. Some states allow attorneys to be present during mediation, while other states do not. But even if your attorney is there, you will be handling most of the discussion with the mediator and your childs other parent.
Prepare in advance the first mediation session. Think about what youd like in terms of custody and visitation and write out a proposed schedule to review with the mediator and the other parent. Be reasonable and flexible. Have a written schedule of yours and your childs daily activities. Take into account holidays and birthdays and make sure the child will be with each parent on important days, such as with dad on Fathers Day and with mom on Mothers Day.
Also, think about your wishes and your childs needs in terms of school, religious training, medical care, activities, and time with friends. Be open minded and prepared for a give-and-take with the other parent.
Child Custody and Support
The law says that each parent has a duty to care for and financially support the child. Laws vary from state to state, but usually the parent who does not have primary custody is required to pay to help support the child in the other parents household.
It is important to note that a parent cannot withhold visitation due to unpaid child support. Nor can the non-custodial parent avoid paying the full amount of support by buying the child items unless that is part of the agreement between the parents. Neither side can unilaterally change the terms of the agreement. This is why it is important for the parents to work together to come up with a custody and support agreement that they are both comfortable with and that meets all of the childs needs.