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How to win child custody mediation

If you are facing a child custody mediation, read on for everything you need to know about how to reach the best possible outcome.

evident Editorial Team
November 20, 2023
mother and daughter, child custody mediation

Child custody disputes can be an emotionally charged and stressful experience for both parents and the children involved. In many cases, the outcome of these disputes can significantly impact the well-being of the child and the family as a whole

If you are facing a child custody dispute that is headed for mediation, achieving the best outcome for you and your child requires more than just showing up and hoping for the best. It requires careful preparation, effective communication, and a willingness to compromise. And you should strongly consider speaking with a child custody lawyer to help you through the process.

In this article, we will provide tips and strategies for how to approach child custody mediation. It’s important to note that “winning” child custody mediation is a misnomer. There is no “winning” in this context. The goal of mediation is to come to an agreement that ensures the best outcome for your child and family. 

Let’s dig in and get you there.

Key Takeaways

Understand the mediation process

Child custody mediation is a voluntary, non-binding process where parents meet with a neutral third-party mediator to try and agree on the terms of custody and visitation. The mediator's role is to facilitate communication and help parents reach an agreement, but the mediator does not make decisions for the parents. 

So why go through mediation? It’s often less expensive and less time-consuming than going to court, allows parents more control over the outcome, and can help parents reach an amicable resolution.

If you’re getting ready for child custody mediation, it's essential to have a good understanding of the mediation process. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  1. The mediator's role and responsibilities

The mediator is a neutral third party whose job is facilitating communication between the parents. The mediator is not a decision-maker and cannot impose a solution. The mediator's role is to help the parents work together to find a solution that meets the child's needs.

  1. The voluntary nature of mediation

Mediation is voluntary, meaning either parent can choose to end the process at any time. If an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, the parents can still choose to go to court to have a judge decide their custody dispute.

  1. The confidentiality of mediation

Mediation is confidential, meaning any statements made in mediation cannot be used in court. This allows parents to be more open and honest in their communication without the fear that what they say will be used against them.

  1. The importance of preparation

Preparation is critical to a successful mediation. This includes understanding your state's laws and guidelines for child custody mediation and clearly understanding what you want and what you are willing to compromise on with the other parent. 

It's also important to prepare a list of questions to ask the mediator before the mediation session. You’ll want to ensure you know everything about the process that could affect the outcome. 

Know your state laws and guidelines

Each state has its own set of laws and guidelines governing child custody which can affect the outcome of your mediation. Familiarizing yourself with these laws can facilitate a smoother mediation process and increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome. 

Below are some key aspects to consider and how they may differ among states.

Types of custody

There are two primary forms of custody: legal and physical custody. Legal custody pertains to the authority to make decisions about the child's upbringing, including education and healthcare choices. Physical custody determines the child's living arrangements. States may have different definitions or standards for awarding joint custody or sole custody (or, primary custody or full custody), which could impact the outcome of your case.

For example, Texas uses the terms "conservatorship" and "possession and access" to describe custody arrangements. Texas courts generally assign joint managing conservatorship (JMC), which is similar to joint legal custody, and one parent is typically designated as the primary conservator with the right to determine the child's primary residence. The other parent is granted possession and access, which is akin to visitation rights in other states.

As this example demonstrates, state laws regarding custody arrangements can vary significantly so it is essential to understand the specific regulations in your jurisdiction.

Factors influencing court decisions

Courts consider various factors when determining custody arrangements, including the child's age, their relationship with each parent, where the parents live, the parents' ability to provide appropriate care, any history of substance abuse, and more. Some states, like California, have specific factors that courts must consider, while others may have more general guidelines.

Mediation requirements

States have distinct requirements for child custody mediation. While some mandate mediation in all custody disputes, others require it only under specific circumstances. For instance, North Carolina requires mediation in contested custody and visitation cases, whereas New York offers voluntary mediation.

Parenting plans

Typically, you’ll want to create a clear parenting plan that outlines custody and visitation terms. Many states grant parents the flexibility to create an agreement that best suits their needs. State-specific resources, like Colorado's Parenting Plan Guide, can help parents navigate the process.

Enforcing mediation agreements

Mediation agreements will generally be upheld by courts unless a judge finds a major issue with the agreement. Some states, such as Minnesota,  allow you to go a step further and file the mediation agreement with the court, transforming it into a court order.

It is crucial to research your state's laws and guidelines regarding child custody mediation, as this knowledge can help you navigate the process and adequately prepare for your mediation session. 

If you have any questions or concerns, consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in family law within your state.

Prepare your case

laptop, office, hand

Once you understand the mediation process and have identified any state-specific rules to know, the next step is to prepare for mediation.

This can be stressful and emotional, but careful planning and preparation can increase your chances of a successful outcome. In this section, we'll take a closer look at the key steps you should take to prepare your case for mediation.

Remember that mediation is all about finding a compromise that works for both parties, so be open to compromise and be prepared to negotiate. With the right preparation and mindset, you can successfully navigate the child custody mediation process and reach an agreement that is in your child's best interests.

Step 1: Define Your Objectives

Before you begin preparing for mediation, it's important to define your goals. Think about what you want to achieve during the mediation process. This will help you stay focused and articulate your points clearly.

Step 2: Gather Evidence

Gather evidence that supports your case, such as school records, medical records, and witness statements. Organize the evidence in a way that is easy to present during mediation.

Step 3: Anticipate the Other Side's Arguments

Think about the other side's arguments and prepare counterarguments. This will help you be more persuasive during mediation. Consider the points the other party might raise, and think about how you will respond.

Step 4: Consider the Child's Best Interests

Remember that child custody mediation focuses on the child's best interests. Be prepared to demonstrate how your proposed child custody order arrangement is in the child's best interests. And be willing to make compromises if necessary.

Step 5: Develop a Parenting Plan

Develop a comprehensive parenting plan that outlines your proposed custody and visitation arrangements. Consider your work schedule, the child's school schedule, and other factors that could impact your proposed arrangement. Check your state's guidelines for parenting plans and make sure your plan meets those requirements.

Step 6: Consult with an Attorney

Consult with an attorney who specializes in family law in your state for additional guidance and support. A family law attorney can help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities, as well as help you prepare for mediation and family court services.

Choose your battles wisely

During child custody mediation, it's crucial to be selective about the issues you choose to address. Being overly aggressive and fighting over every minor detail can make it harder to reach a resolution. What you really want is an agreement that is best for your child.

baby, teddy bear, play

Here are some tips to help you navigate this process with care:

First, identify your top priorities before going into mediation. This will help you focus your energy on the most critical issues. Take the time to reflect on what matters most to you regarding custody and visitation, living arrangements, and what you are willing to compromise on.

Second, be willing to compromise. Mediation is all about finding common ground that works for both parties. Put personal conflicts aside, be open to different possibilities and prepared to make concessions. A successful outcome is one where both parties feel their needs have been met.

Third, don't get caught up on the small stuff. Not every issue is worth fighting over, so choose your battles wisely. Focus on the bigger picture and keep the spotlight on the issues that matter most.

Lastly, stay calm and focused during the mediation process. Emotions can run high, but it's essential to keep a level head and avoid getting sidetracked by arguments or emotional outbursts. The goal is to find a solution that works for everyone, so keep your eye on the prize.

By following these tips, you can approach child and custody issues and mediation more strategically, increase your chances of reaching a resolution that benefits everyone involved and ensure your child's well-being remains the top priority.

Communicate effectively

If you have been following along and taking action, here’s where you are at. 

You now understand the mediation process and have taken the time to identify any state-specific laws that may impact child custody rights (or you’ve consulted with an attorney). You’ve also prepared for mediation and have identified the battles you want to fight.  

Now comes the most important part: effective communication. During child custody mediation,  miscommunication can lead to misunderstandings which can complicate the negotiation process. 

Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively during a child custody mediation session so you can achieve your goals:

  • Stay calm and focused: Emotions can run high during mediation, but it's important to stay calm and focused. Before speaking, take a few deep breaths and avoid raising your voice or getting defensive.
  • Use "I" statements: Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. For example, instead of saying, "You are not considering my needs," say, "I feel like my needs are not being considered." The less confrontational you are, the smoother the process will be.
  • Listen carefully and actively: Active listening means giving the other party your full attention without interrupting or jumping to conclusions. By listening actively, you can gain insight into the other party's perspective and work towards finding a mutually agreeable solution.
  • Repeat what you hear: Repeat what you hear the other party saying to confirm that you understand their point of view. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and ensures that both parties are on the same page.
  • Avoid making demands: Demands can be seen as confrontational and can make the other party defensive. Instead, frame your requests as suggestions and be open to compromise.
  • Seek clarification: If you don't understand something, don't be afraid to ask for clarification. Clarifying questions can help avoid misunderstandings and ensure both parties are clear on the issues being discussed.

By communicating effectively during child custody mediation, you can increase the chances of reaching the best outcome for your child and family.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, a successful child custody mediation requires preparation, strategy, and effective communication. Understanding the mediation process, knowing your state laws and guidelines, and preparing a strong case can increase your chances of getting the desired outcome. 

By following the tips and strategies in this article, you'll be better equipped to get the results you want.