Dear Dr. Jann– After years of turmoil and chaos, my husband and I have decided to divorce. We are somewhat amicable in the sense that we have both decided it’s over and we want to proceed with a divorce. We were told mediation would head off a court hearing. Is that true? What exactly goes on in “mediation”? How can it help?
-Sincerely, Divorcing coParents
Dear Divorcing coParents,
Mediation can be helpful in a variety of ways. It’s designed to help both parties come to an agreement, especially if you are likely to disagree often. A “mediator” is an unbiased third party who facilitates a negotiation. They will hear from one party first, then the other. Once they hear both sides, they will suggest a compromise that might allow the parties to come to an agreement. Divorce mediation includes financial settlements and a decision about child custody between two people who no longer want to be together.
My personal specialty is child custody mediation. During this type of mediation, it is a mediator’s responsibility to facilitate an agreement between divorcing parents about a parenting schedule for their children. At the beginning of the mediation process, information is gathered that will help to make a balanced parenting plan between both coparents.
Things are considered like:
- Who was the primary caregiver before the split?
- What are the plans for care now?
- What are the parents’ work hours?
- What are the children’s ages?
- What is the distance between both coparents homes?
- How far away is the child’s school from either parent’s home?
Other things also come into consideration like:
- Is there is there a history of domestic violence or alcohol/drug abuse?
- Will daycare be needed when the parents are at work?
The conversation can be lengthy, but the information must be offered in good faith with the understanding that the final agreed upon plan is in the best interest of the children–not the best interest of the parents.
As the mediation continues, both parents have a chance to present their position without interruption, and the mediator remains unbiased as he or she listens to each parent’s concerns. The final parenting plan is made by the parents but it is not uncommon for a mediator to make suggestions, particularly if the parents aren’t aware of how to create a parenting plan or know the best situation to fit both of their needs. Truth is, most everyone wants as much time with their children as possible and an experienced child custody mediator will help to make a plan that optimizes both parents’ time with their children.
Parents must also be open to adjusting the parenting plan as the needs of the children and parents change, especially when the child starts to grow older and become more involved in activities. When the parenting plan needs to be adjusted, it is important for coparents to work together to come up with a plan that better suits both of their needs, given the circumstances. If one or both coparents can’t come to an agreement amongst themselves, they can return to mediation at any time to discuss their concerns and hopefully come to a new agreement.