North Carolina courts began to mandate mediation in cases involving child custody in 1983, when a pilot program was initiated in the 26th Judicial District (Mecklenburg County). The 1983 General Assembly authorized the pilot and granted funding until 1985. Mediation services were provided on contract by United Family Services, a United Way agency. The program was considered a success by both judges and attorneys and was extended in the 1985 legislature for another two years, and in 1986 the pilot was extended into Gaston County as well. The 1987 General Assembly gave the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts a mandate to determine whether the Custody Mediation Program should be recommended for statewide expansion, or be allowed to expire.
Over the period of a year, an eight-member advisory committee of judges researched and analyzed various court-based mediation systems and provided a final recommendation for statewide expansion. In 1989, the enabling legislature governing the Custody Mediation Program was enacted. As recommended by the committee, custody mediation was authorized as a mandatory practice, with oversight and administration to be developed by the NCAOC with substantial operational decision-making authority and discretion given to the judicial district.
Gradually, the Custody Mediation and Visitation Program was implemented across the state, with the first programs enacted in Buncombe County (Asheville), Wake County (Raleigh), and Cumberland County (Fayetteville).
In 2013, 24 years after the legislature established custody mediation, the program achieved the milestone of being available in every judicial district in the state.
The majority of funding for the Custody Mediation and Visitation Program provides for salaries and benefits for mediators and support staff positions. Funds also support training for new mediators and continuing training for mediators in the field. For fiscal year 2016 – 17, the authorized budget was $4,289,699.