Child custody is probably one of the toughest parts of a custody dispute or separation process, but a successful mediation can make it a little bit easier on you, your co-parent, and most importantly, your child. We put together a child custody mediation checklist so you can be ready for the discussion but let’s talk a little bit about the mediation process first.
An Overview of Child Custody Mediation
In essence, mediation is designed to make parents work together to create an understanding of what will happen to their children after a custody dispute.
A neutral 3rd party will be present to help move things along, and these mediations can be done both privately or in a public court setting.
The whole idea of a child custody mediation is to reach a point where both parents agree on a plan for their children.
This will typically include information on who has custody of the children, when the other party gets to see them, how holidays will work, and so on.
By going through this process, it ensures that both parties reach an agreement that they’re happy with. It’s also more beneficial for the children as they will know how things are going to work, and helps circumvent situations where they won’t know when they’ll see one of their parents again.
Naturally, emotions run high during a custody dispute and mediations can take a long time before both parties are happy enough with the decisions. It’s not a process that should be rushed as your children are the main benefactors of what happens during the custody mediation. With that in mind, you must be fully prepared when the time comes.
We advise that you look at the list below and make sure that you understand everything on it before you go into mediation.
Child Custody Mediation Checklist
1. Focus on the child’s best interest and set your own personal conflicts and opinions aside
No matter what your personal situation is with the other parent, you need to remember that everything discussed during mediation is done with your child/children’s best interest in mind. So, anything that is not relevant to that should not be hashed out during mediation.
2. Print off any documents or written communication about custody plans and bring them with you
We always suggest that if there will be child custody discussions involved that you always communicate with the other party in some form of writing. This could be a shared word document or spreadsheet and emails or texts – that can all be printed off and brought to mediation.
3. Bring documents like work schedules and your child’s activity and school schedule
Bringing these items will help set up a fair parenting schedule and plan that works for all parties involved.
4. Get enough sleep the night before and eat breakfast or lunch before you go
This, although great life advice in general, is something you want to make sure you do before entering mediation.
This is an extremely stressful time and getting a good night’s rest might seem out of your wheelhouse at the moment. You need to show up alert, ready to discuss arrangements and answer questions.
The time frame for mediations can vary and you will need to be 100% focused.
5. Write down any concerns or questions you may have
You are probably feeling a little lost and this is probably the first time you have experienced mediation, so write down any questions or concerns you would like to address during the meeting beforehand.
Your mediator will likely ask you both if you have any questions throughout the discussion or at the end and answer anything they legally can.
6. Listen to the other parent’s thoughts and feelings
During mediation, the goal is to come at least close to setting up an agreement that best benefits the child. It is important that you let the other party express their thoughts and feelings and listen to what they have to say. This will make the entire process go smoother and you may find it easier to find an agreement that works for everyone faster.
7. Listen to the mediator
This is a big one. When you are in mediation, make sure you listen carefully to the mediator. Your mediator is likely a judge or attorney and they are well-versed in child custody cases. Listening to them and paying close attention to their questions could help you out as the agreement process goes on.
Do not talk over them and listen to everything they have to say before you respond.
8. Stay calm and be professional
Difficult discussions might take place during the mediation but you will want to maintain a calm and professional demeanor the entire time. If your emotions do get the best of you, calmly excuse yourself from the room for a minute or two and regroup.
No matter what you want the outcome of the mediation to be, you need to make sure you maintain your composure.
9. Focus on the topic being discussed
Stay as focused as possible on the specific topic being discussed at the moment. Avoid going on tangents or bringing up things that are not relevant to what is being talked about.
10. Know that you may have to compromise
If you go in with the mentality that it is your way or the highway, you will likely not have a successful mediation. Compromising is going to be part of the process. Remember that everything done during mediation is for the best interest of your child/children.
11. Be prepared to answer additional questions
We have outlined some additional questions you will want to think about before entering mediation so you can be prepared to answer them.
Additional Questions to Consider
Now, every situation is different. Some parents are able to come to a schedule and custody agreement with very little issue where others have a bit more difficulty. A mediator is there to help guide you through the discussion and assess the situation. Make sure you are ready to answer the following honestly:
How are the current childcare responsibilities shared?
You will likely be asked a question similar to this during mediation or the topic will come up naturally.
Does one parent spend most of their time looking after the child or children, or is parenting time equally split up between both parties? This question holds quite a bit of weight when deciding who has primary custody as it usually makes more sense for the children to stay with whoever has provided most of their care.
Where will the child/children live?
Figuring out the logistics surrounding child custody is also going to play a big part during the mediation process.
If both parents live within the same area, then it’s much easier to devise a plan for shared custody where the child goes between homes. In many cases, there will be agreements for shared custody where the kids stay in one place for a few days, then another for the remainder of the week.
If one parent is planning to move somewhere like another school district or state, then it makes things harder.
Make sure you are clear about your living arrangements and have considered whether or not you’ll be moving in the near future.
If you are planning on moving in the near future, disclose this – it is better to get this out in the open as soon as possible even if you think that it may hurt your chances at gaining primary custody.
What’s the current state of your relationship?
This is arguably the hardest question to answer when settling a custody dispute and may or may not be addressed during mediation but it is definitely something to consider before you go in.
This is not relating to your romantic or personal relationship, it is relating to how you communicate and interact with each other.
In many cases, two people may agree to split up, but be on excellent terms with one another. If you still get along well, there hopefully won’t be too many issues with co-parenting and the agreement.
However, if the split was particularly nasty, then there might be a lot of tension and hostility in the air.
Be honest with yourself and think about if you can make shared custody work or if it will make the situation harder for your child/children.
How old is/are the child/children?
The age of your child/children matters more than you might think. Young children have higher demands than older ones.
Young children that grow up with an absent parent might develop a bias towards the parent that’s with them all the time. In turn, this could lead to an unhealthy relationship with the parent they don’t get to see.
With older children – say, those in their mid to late teens – the parental demands are much lighter. Not only that, but the children will be better able to understand the situation and might even be able to transport themselves to and from school and activities.
What is their temperament?
Effectively, you need to think about your child/children’s behavior. Some kids are easy-going and can adapt to change very well. They might adjust well and understand the importance of spending time with each parent when they can.
However, many children will likely have trouble with the change – particularly when they’re very young. They will find it challenging to accept the new way of life, and this can lead to behavioral problems and difficulties.
A solution that involves as little change as possible is ideal because your child/children can be eased into this new way of life, rather than be in a situation where they only see their mom/dad one weekend per month.
Yes, this may involve close communication and frequent contact with someone you don’t enjoy talking to, but if it is in the best interest of the child, you will need to work together.
What is your job situation?
Employment is usually a significant factor in child custody mediation. Some people may argue that they deserve full custody of the child, but the reality is that their employment status can get in the way. There are two things to consider:
- How much do you earn?
- How demanding is the job?
If you don’t earn enough to support yourself and your child/children, then some type of compromise needs to be made.
Similarly, if your job is too demanding – and you work every single day of the week for 10-12 hours per day – then you might not have time to look after your children full-time.
What arrangements will be made for holidays and school vacations?
Holidays probably cause the most friction between parents and cause the most custody issues but you have to decide what will happen when vacations and holidays come around and stick to those decisions.
For example, if one parent has primary custody of the child/children, then you might agree to let the other take care of them for an extended period during the summer.
Then, there are religious or traditional holidays to think about. As an example, what will happen at Christmas time? Typically, couples come to a decision whereby the children alternate Christmasses with each parent every year, but this is decided on a case by case basis.
Mediations can sometimes be a bit like minefields. The key is to be as prepared as possible.
At Oswald Law, we specialize in family law and are well versed in helping individuals just like you come out with ideal custody agreements with the best outcomes in mind. If you would like to learn more about how our family law attorneys can help you, click here to continue.
If you already have a custody agreement and want to learn about making changes and modifications, click here for more information.