Child Custody Mediation

In North Carolina, child custody mediation is required before setting a matter on the trial calendar.  (NCGS 50-13.1(b)) Many matters can be settled at the mediation level, an outcome satisfying to both the parties and the court. You can do much better at the mediation if you follow the suggestions enumerated below.

While the actual mediation process differs from county to county, most are similar. Wake County requires two sessions, the first is for general orientation where the parties see a movie about how they should get along for the best interest of the children and they then set a return date to meet with the mediator.  The mediation sessions last approximately one hour. In rare situations, a third session may be possible. Except for criminal matters or child abuse, statements made in mediation are absolutely privileged. An agreement reached at mediation is known as a “Parenting Agreement” and is deemed to be a custody order. (NCGS 50-13.1(h))

Remember, mediation is your last chance you have to avoid trial. If you keep in mind that your goals and your spouse’s goals should be the same: to craft an agreement which will allow your child to develop into an emotionally and physically healthy adult. Over the past few years, I have come up with the following suggestions for my clients to consider in participating in the mediation:

  1. Do not rehash what went wrong in your marriage; this is not a counseling session.
  2. Bring two things with you to the mediation: your best case scenario, and your bottom line.  Settle for anything in between those two places.
  3. Do not forget what your concerns are. If it is alcohol, stay firm on your requirement that there be no drinking around the children, if it is making decisions about religion, put in that you will be the decision maker on that issue, whatever is important to you, this is the time to make sure it is in there because once it becomes an order, you cannot add terms. If you are the party against whom the restriction is sought, consider if the rule is justified or if you can live with it, if appropriate, make it mutual.
  4. Remember you do not have to agree.  If the other side will not move from his or her position, you do not have to agree with it.
  5. Remember you can compromise, even if the other parent never gave a bath or changed a diaper, that doesn’t mean he or she can’t do it. If the inactive parent turns into Super Parent, it may be a better situation for the child than when you were together.
  6. Do not agree to something that you can’t live with. Regardless of what they say at mediation, it is not that easy to change the parenting agreement once it is entered.  Even if you and your child’s other parent are getting along really well and hope to get back together, enter into the mediation as if that is not going to happen. You need to craft an agreement that you can use if/when you are not getting along.
  7. Be mindful of the time asked for. If the days requested by the other parent miraculously total 123, or, on the other hand refuse to budge past 121, it is probable that money is guiding the desire for time. Don’t deny time based solely on money considerations, but be mindful of these issues.
  8. Child Custody mediation does not include settlement of child support, nor is the right to visitation conditioned on payment of support.
  9. Visitation is not your child’s choice.  It isn’t fair to anyone, parents or child, to place such an important decision in the hands of a child.  You wouldn’t let your child decide not to go to school, or not to wear his seatbelt, this decision isn’t his to make either.  But be mindful that your child has emotions, too.  It may be that your child needs to heal from the separation, or from the alienating behaviors of a party.  Try to set up a plan that will work, building towards more, not less time with each party.
  10. Look at Both Sides.  If you are proposing an agreement, would you be willing to settle for it?  If not, why would you think your child’s other parent would be willing to agree to it? There may be good reason why the other party would or should agree to your proposal, but if you can’t explain your position, you will probably not be able to reach an agreement.  “Because I’m the Mom (or Dad)”, “Because I am the one who always does things with them” and “Because I love them” are not good reasons.

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