Child custody mediation is a process by which you can work together with your co-parent and a neutral mental health professional to develop a parenting plan that is right for your children. Just like Alexander Graham Bell taught us, preparation is the key to success. And success in the context of child custody mediation means you have achieved an outcome that allowed you to avoid court, along with the cost, division and loss of control court can bring. Read on for my top tips to ensure your success in your mediation.
Consult with a Professional before the Mediation
You know your children. You probably have a pretty good idea of the kind of physical custody schedule (sometimes called “timeshare”) you would like to see implemented. However, there are numerous factors you will want to consider, such as developmental stages or the demands of weekday academics or extracurriculars on your children. I would suggest doing your homework and then consulting separately with a therapist who specializes in co-parenting before attending mediation with your Ex. Workshopping your ideas ahead of time with an expert can produce invaluable feedback. People who struggle the most in mediation are the ones who walk in a bit too rigid and uncompromising. Knowing your blindspots ahead of time can help to keep you flexible in achieving the best schedule for your children.
Track the Status Quo
If you and your co-parent are already living separately and sharing custody in some form or fashion, keep track of your current arrangements. A custody journal will help you document dates and events that you wish to include in the discussion, and lend credibility to your position. Plus, memories fade. Keeping contemporaneous notes will serve you well in addressing concerns you may have with timeshare stability, promptness at exchange times, make-up time, etc.
Anticipate Future Areas of Decision-Making
Depending on your circumstances, it could be important to look ahead and develop a plan for how to address potential areas of disagreements, even if you are not having conflict presently. Consider including in your discussion:
- School and extracurricular activities – how will you handle enrollment in an activity on your custodial time that you did not select?
- Custody exchanges – should these be at school or another neutral place or curbside?
- Parent communication – do you need rules and limits on how and when to communicate?
- Travel and vacations – how will you determine who gets “dibs” on the selection of summer travel dates?
- Moving – what happens to the custody schedule if one of you needs to move?
Get plenty of rest the night before the mediation. Be well-fed, too. Bring your work schedule and your child’s school and sports calendar. Go into mediation lacking in defensiveness. Present more than one option. Allow the mediator to do her or his magic. Be willing to listen. Know that compromises will be made. Set aside conflicts with your Ex (this is not about you) and focus on making decisions that serve only the best interests of your children. Consult with a family law attorney to know your legal options before and after mediation. Know that achieving a mediated resolution can be painful and protracted, but that it can be well worth the effort in the long run if it keeps you out of court.