According to the legislative mandates (N.C.G.S. § 50-13.1 and N.C.G.S. § 7A-494), all cases involving contested custody and visitation issues must be sent to the Custody Mediation and Visitation Program before those issues are tried in court. Each district has local rules that outline the operational procedures for their Custody Mediation Program. Select the county where your case is filed from the drop down menu.
The only exceptions are cases waived for good cause, including cases involving serious allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, or substance abuse. Some districts also waive cases in which a party lives more than 50 miles from the court.
Parties with child custody and visitation issues are first referred to an orientation session. This group presentation is designed to provide participants with a general understanding of what mediation involves. Parties are provided with informational material about the program in addition to local resources for children and parents. Parties watch an award-winning video produced by the NCAOC, “Putting Children First.” Parties are asked to reflect carefully upon the information presented and to attend their scheduled mediation prepared to discuss residency, decision making, and any other parental concerns / issues.
During the confidential mediation session, the mediator helps the parties identify, clarify, and articulate their concerns regarding the child(ren). The mediator facilitates discussion that helps parties explore possible plans that address the needs of the child(ren) while meeting the concerns of the parties. The mediator remains balanced and non-judgmental in mediation and respects the parties’ right to self-determination. In that regard, parties are not required to reach an agreement in mediation and the mediator does not make decisions for the parents.
If parties are able to reach agreement on the issues in mediation, the mediator prepares a draft parenting agreement, sends it to the parties and their attorneys, and typically allows them at least 10 days to review it. Once the parties sign the agreement, it is signed by the judge and becomes an enforceable order of the court. Parties do not return to court for custody, although they may continue with litigation or private mediation on other matters.