TIPS TO PREPARE FOR CHILD CUSTODY MEDIATION
by Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D.
Since the early 1980's, parents have increasingly used the process of divorce mediation to help them resolve their differences and reduce the scars of battle. Child custody mediation is a process in which parents work together to develop a plan for parenting their children after divorce with the help of a neutral third party. While mediation can be done privately, the use of court-connected mediation has rapidly grown over the last ten years. In many states, the use of such mediation is mandatory before parents can litigate custody issues.
The mediation process is one in which parents work together to devise a parenting plan that is mutually acceptable to both parents. This parenting plan may be quite structured, specifying the day-to-day time share of the children, as well as plans for holidays, vacations, and other special issues of the family. By working together in mediation to develop a parenting plan, parents can avoid the battles which are so damaging in an adversarial process, and can include their children in the decision-making in a way that empowers them in a healthy way.
When parents use mediation and develop a parenting plan on their own, their children will be able to avoid loyalty conflicts and are less likely to feel the stress of battling parents. When children are included in the decision-making process, they benefit because they can express their feelings and know that their parents are listening to them. Mediation gives children a much greater sense that they have a say in their lives and a freedom to contribute to the decisions that affect their lives.
Courts that offer mediation services do their clients a big service. Research shows that mediation can reduce litigation over custody. When parents participate in mediation, they are likely to reach a settlement 60 to 70 % of the time. Parents are usually much more satisfied with mediation than with litigation. Most important, however, if parents use mediation, they will have control over the parenting plan, whereas in adversarial litigation, the judge determines how parents will spend time with their children. With the improved satisfaction, the increased mutual decision-making, and the decreased hostility, mediation is clearly a healthier alternative than litigation. For those parents who live in an area where court-connected mediation is not available, private mediation services are usually available and are typically well worth the investment, especially in comparison to the alternative of litigation. Parents will probably save money and have more control over the outcome if they use mediation.
Listen to the mediator's advice and consider it. He/she will most likely have the child's best interests in mind, even if the parents cannot agree on what that is. Parents need to recognize that the mediator's job is to try and balance the child's needs and each parent's desires. The mediator does this while encouraging parents to reach a parenting solution. If nothing else works, sometimes a humorous, but not rude, comment can break this tension, and help everyone get back to work. While any parent will want to hold firm to their major beliefs and values, there may be many ways to satisfy these beliefs.
Parents should be open to different ideas, keep working to satisfy their goals, and be willing to compromise to reach a peaceful solution on behalf of their children.
Do's and Don'ts for Mediation:
Ahrons, C. (1994). The Good Divorce. New York: Harper Collins.
Emery, R. (1999). Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustment, 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Ricci, I. (1997). Mom's House, Dad's House: A Complete Guide for Parents Who are Separated, Divorced, or Remarried (2nd edition). New York: Simon & Schuster.
Dr. Phil Stahl, Ph.D., a Licensed Psychologist in Northern California, provides custody evaluations and consultation in high-conflict divorces. He is the author of several books and articles on divorce, including Parenting After Divorce
For a more complete bio of Dr. Stahl click here.
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