Mediation may be the key to solving a dispute involving child custody or visitation. These frequently asked questions introduce you to the process.

I’ve heard that mediation is the best approach to solving disagreements about child custody. Is this true?

Mediation is a non-adversarial process where a neutral person (a mediator) meets with disputing persons to help them settle a dispute. The mediator does not have power to impose a solution on the parties, but assists them in creating an agreement of their own. (In Alaska, California, Delaware, Michigan, New Mexico and South Dakota, however, the mediator may be asked by the court to make a recommendation if the parties cannot reach an agreement.)

There are several important reasons why mediation is a superior method to litigation for resolving custody and visitation disputes.

  • Mediation usually does not involve lawyers or expert witnesses (or their astronomical fees).
  • Mediation usually produces a settlement after five to ten hours of mediation over a week or two. (Child custody litigation can drag on for months or even years.)
  • Mediation enhances communication between the couple and makes it much more likely that they will be able to cooperate after the divorce or separation when it comes to raising their children. Experts who have studied the effects of divorce on children universally conclude that when divorcing or separating parents can cooperate, the children suffer far less.

Things are so bitter between my ex and me that it’s hard to see us sitting down together to work things out. How can mediation possibly work?

Mediators are very skilled at getting parents who are bitter enemies to cooperate for the sake of their children. The more parents can agree on the details of separate parenting, the better it will be for them and their children. And mediators are skilled at getting the parents to recognize this fact and then move forward towards negotiating a sensible parenting agreement. If there is a history of abuse or the parents initially cannot stand to be in the same room with each other, the mediator can meet with each parent separately and ferry messages back and forth until agreement on at least some issues is reached. At this point, the parties may be willing to meet face-to-face.