In some cases involving children, litigation is necessary. Litigation is initiated when one party files a Complaint. If that Complaint includes a claim for custody, you will find yourself ordered to attend custody mediation.
In Mecklenburg County, Family Court will automatically require the parties of any case that involves a claim for custody to attend custody mediation. This mediation is different than one you might attend outside of Court and with your attorney and this is a free service offered by the Court. The only people present at custody mediation are you, the other parent of your child and the custody mediator, who is a neutral. Your attorney is not present. You can expect your mediation session to last around 2 hours. This is not a time to focus on any wrongdoing of the past but to decide a custody arrangement that can best serve the children. The custody mediator does not share information discussed in mediation with your attorney or the judge unless there is a matter concerning the safety and well-being of the child. Forcing parties to attend custody mediation ensures that there is an attempt to resolve any claim for custody before a custody trial is held. Custody trials can be costly, time consuming and an emotional hardship for all involved. Every party benefits when matters can be resolved outside of a courtroom.
Before you attend custody mediation you’ll want to spend some time thinking about the custody arrangement you desire. Remember what you desire and what is best for your child may be different. Mecklenburg County promotes shared parenting responsibilities, which includes joint custody and 50/50 schedules. Your attorney can properly advise you if this is not in the best interests of your children and one parent should have primary custody of the children.
What kind of schedule do you envision? If children are of school age, the week on/week off schedule is common and usually easier for everyone logistically. One thing to think about with this type of schedule is allowing time for the other parent to visit with the children one evening during the week for a few hours so that each parent is not going a whole week without seeing the children and checking in with them. If children are younger than kindergarten, psychologists recommend more frequent contact and visitation with their parents. A 2-2-3 schedule is common for this age. For example, one parent has the children Monday and Tuesday. The other parent enjoys Wednesday and Thursday and weekends are alternated. Think about what works best for you and your children’s schedule. Think about your work schedule and the children’s school and extracurricular activities when outlining a schedule that words best.
It is common practice for holidays to be alternated each year. When outlining holiday visitation, don’t forget to think about Halloween, Labor Day weekend, Memorial weekend, the children’s birthday and your birthday. As with holidays, the week of Spring Break is usually alternated. Consult your children’s school calendars when planning your desired visitation schedule and print out those calendars, along with your own, and bring them with you to mediation. Having these calendars will also help in outlining summer break and extended vacations.
Your mediator will navigate the conversation with you and the other parent and help raise points that you may not have thought about beforehand. The more you can think about and plan prior to mediation, the more prepared you will be allowing you to be efficient in the time with your mediator. Always remember, children benefit from parents that can be flexible and work together to co-parent.
The mediator will not discuss child support or other financial information with you, nor will they discuss asset settlement. If you and the other party agree to a custody and visitation arrangement, your mediator will draft a Parenting Agreement. That Agreement will then be sent to your attorney for review and signature. After signature by the parties, the Agreement will be sent to the Judge to sign and will become an enforceable Order of the Court. If you and the other party do not resolve your custody dispute in mediation, your case will proceed to trial.
In some rare cases, custody mediation may not be right for your case. Your attorney can advise you should you have a concern with attending mediation. For more information on the Custody Mediation program, click here.