You’ve already decided to go through the mediation process and take advantage of several benefits of using this process instead of dragging your family through a long court battle. This practical decision will allow you and the other parent to work toward a fair agreement about how you will parent your children together, separately. An important benefit of mediation is that you and the other parent can generally reach any decision that works for the best interests of your family as long as it is legal.
What is the Mediation Process
An alternative to litigating a child custody case, mediation is a collaborative process that allows separating parents to control the outcome. The parents work together to develop a comprehensive agreement that is customized to their unique circumstances. A mediator helps parents through this process and facilitates peaceful communication between them. The mediator is a neutral, third-party attorney who keeps each parent focused on achieving a fair resolution and away from arguing over past resentments. The mediator’s communications are focused on reminding parents that they are there to work together and focus on the mutual goal of protecting their child’s best interests.
What are the Benefits of Mediation
Mediating a child custody case provides many benefits to the parents, including:
- Less expensive than traditional litigation
- Private and confidential
- Direct control over the outcome
- More peaceful and harmonious
- Focused on the individual needs of the children and the family
- More equitable outcomes that are mutually beneficial and fair to both parents
- Provides a foundation for how to resolve future parenting disputes
These are just a few of the many benefits that child custody mediation offers. Further benefits are received from participating fully and in good faith with the mediation process.
What is the Role of the Mediator
It is important to remember that the mediator does not have decision-making authority; the mediator is not a judge or an arbitrator. The mediator is a neutral person who is not biased in favor of either parent. The mediator helps identify the child custody issues involved and provides general information to help guide the parents toward a peaceful resolution. The mediator knows that every family is unique, but he or she can suggest options that were helpful to other parents. The mediator can also help the parties brainstorm ideas to help resolve issues that arise. Mediators help the parents reach mutually agreeable solutions that are fair to both parents. They also acknowledge that both parents want to have an active and meaningful role in their child’s life and support this idea.
What are the Main Parenting Plan Provisions
A parenting plan is an agreement you reach with the other parent about how you will raise your child. It details how much time the child will spend with each parent along with other important details regarding the responsibilities of each parent. Having a written parenting plan will help you and the other parent understand expectations and avoid confusion.
The form of a parenting plan may vary by county, but Missouri courts generally want all parenting plans to provide specific provisions. Judges understand that agreements the parents reach together are more likely to be followed, so although you need to include several required paragraphs you have a high degree of flexibility regarding the terms you put in each paragraph. The parenting plan may be changed over time, so it should be a thorough document that covers most parenting decisions.
Physical Custody Time
The foundation of a parenting plan is describing the time that the child will spend with each parent. This section will provide a custody label, such as “joint physical custody” or “residential parent” or “sole physical custody”. The plan should refer to parents as “mother” and “father”. The parenting plan should provide specific details about when the child will be with each parent. The greater specificity, the less likely it is that there will be confusion. Some of the specific information that may be included in this section of the parenting plan includes:
- Overnight stays
- Exchange time arrangements
- Weekday and weekend schedules
- Summer scheduling
- Holiday time
Parents need to consider their work schedules, the children’s school schedules, the travel time between parent residences, and the needs of their child when discussing and drafting this section of the parenting plan. Some parenting plans for very young children may include a schedule that automatically adjusts once the child reaches a certain age or a developmental milestone or kindergarten.
The parenting plan will also provide clear information on how decisions for the child will be made. The parents will either be awarded joint legal custody or sole legal custody. Joint legal custody means that the parents share the decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child, and, unless allocated, apportioned, or decreed, the parents shall confer with one another in the exercise of decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority. Sole legal custody means the parents will confer regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child, but one parent will have final decision-making authority. Each parent will have the right to make daily decisions while caring for the child, such as what to feed the child or how to spend time. Each parent will have the right to make emergency decisions while caring for the child. Some parenting plans, such as the form used in St. Louis County, will have a section defining these rights so parents can refer to them as needed when disputes arise.
A foundation of a strong co-parenting relationship is good communication. The parenting plan may establish guidelines for communication, including the following:
- Information to be shared between the parents. This may include a list of information, such as the child’s educational and medical information. It may also include contact information for anyone that the child will be around or travel details.
- Method of communication. The parents may agree to use an app or a shared Google calendar or a notebook that the child carries to share information.
- Frequency and timing restrictions of communication
- How the parents will communicate in case of emergency
- When a change to the parenting plan needs to be in writing
The parenting plan may include information about the child’s education. Some details may include:
- How tutoring or special education classes will be paid for
- How the parents will fund post-secondary educational expenses, such as college or trade school
- How parents will access or share information about school
There may be other provisions that the parents agree on and include in the parenting plan related to the child’s education – especially if the parents agree to private school during mediation.
The parenting plan should also state how the decision for choosing the childcare provider will be made for the child when a parent is working or otherwise unable to care for the child and how the cost of childcare will be divided. Some parenting plans contain a right of first refusal provision that gives the other parent the automatic right to watch the child first if the parent is unavailable for a certain number of hours and needs childcare.
The parents will also state either what extracurricular activities the child will participate in and/or how decisions related to the enrollment in these activities will be made and paid for between the parents. For example, parents who want to limit the number of activities a child can be enrolled in at one time may include a paragraph that the child will participate in one sport and one other non-sport activity during the fall and spring school semesters. It may also include information on who will provide transportation to and from the activities and how equipment for these activities will be paid for and shared between the parents.
Dispute Resolution Provision
The parenting plan will provide a dispute resolution procedure for those matters on which the parties disagree or in interpreting the parenting plan. It may explain that the mediation process should be used to resolve these disputes in an amicable fashion.
Should you need the assistance of an experienced child custody and divorce mediator, know that we are here to help and ready to schedule an initial mediation session with you.