|Q.||What is mediation?|
|A.||Mediation is a process in which a professionally trained neutral third party assists parents in developing an agreement that provides for the care of their children during and after separation. The goal of the mediation process is to provide the litigant a forum to discuss parenting issues that involve both parents in the continuing care of their children. The agreement focuses on the children’s needs as well as the on the rights and responsibilities of both parents.|
The mediator will provide a process by which parents may have discussion toward how the children will be cared for by each parent in the future. Parents are encouraged to be primarily focused on the future rather than dwell on past events, which have been difficult for them.
The mediator is trained in facilitating dispute resolution and has been employed by the courts for that purpose. The mediator’s role is to manage conflicts and to facilitate discussion. Parents are encouraged to discuss their own desires and plans for the present as well as the future. Both parents, and on rare occasions, the children, are brought into the process. To help the parents reach an agreement the mediator remains neutral and balanced. The mediator does not dictate the terms of the agreement, but assists the parties in developing their own agreement after full discussion of the issues affecting the child’s health, education and welfare.
|Q.||How does the mediation program operate?|
|A.||Before a custody case is tried, the court refers the issue of child custody and visitation to the mediation program. Parents are ordered to participate in an orientation session and at least one mediation session before they may proceed further with their case. A show cause order may be issued, or other sanctions imposed, if a party fails to appear at the orientation or first mediation session. Although attendance is mandatory, the court does not require the parents to reach an agreement.|
Upon referral, the parents are notified of the time and place for the mediation session. The parents meet in an informal setting with the mediator. Meetings are usually scheduled within 30 days from the date the court referred the matter to the mediation program. Mediation sessions generally last no more than one to three sessions and each session is normally two hours in length.
Mediation sessions are confidential. The only documentation that leaves the mediation office is a parenting agreement that is signed by the parties and the judge. No recommendations or reports are given to the court, parties or attorneys
|Q.||Are there written agreements?|
|A.||Parents are offered a structure that encourages them to work cooperatively, to discuss fully and try to resolve the issues of child custody and visitation. The mediator will not facilitate the resolution of other issues such as child support, alimony or distribution of property in mediation.|
The mediator puts the parents’ agreement in writing and ensures that they understand the written agreement. The mediator encourages parents to go over the parenting agreement with their lawyers before signing. After the agreement is signed by the parents, the mediator will submit the signed agreement to the court for approval. Once approved by the court, the parenting agreement will be entered as an enforceable order of the court.
|Q.||Why is mediation helpful?|
|A.||Mediation provides mothers and fathers an opportunity to create a model to continue to be parenting partners in a reorganized family. Children particularly suffer from the stress and anxiety associated with separation and divorce. Parents are assisted in affirming their affection and concern for the children while working on parenting plans that reduce the normal fears and anxieties of children concerning the loss of one parent. Mediation also directs the focus away from the issues that could not be resolved during the marriage and toward the issues that must be resolved prior to a satisfactory custody agreement. Parents who invest time and energy putting together a plan for their children are more likely to adhere to the plan. Self-determination and direct involvement in the decision making process are effective in promoting positive and lasting results for parents and children.|
Many attorneys have found that mediation of custody and visitation disputes improves the ability of couples to successfully negotiate a settlement of the financial and property issues accompanying separation and divorce.
|Q.||Is mediation ever inappropriate?|
|A.||In families where substance abuse, alcoholism, spouse abuse, or child abuse is occurring, mediation may not be the most appropriate resource. Such behaviors raise serious safety issues, which the mediator must consider. Parents are encouraged to share any concerns they have about these issues with the mediator. |
|Q.||What does mediation cost?|
|A.||There is no cost to the parents for the mediation service. The Custody and Visitation Mediation Program is operated under the auspices of the Office of the Chief District Court Judge and with the support of the Administrative Office of the Courts. |
|Q.||Is there a complaint procedure?|
|A.||If a participant has a complaint against either the mediator or the mediation process itself, the complaint is to be reduced to writing and mailed or taken to the chief District Court judge in the district in which the mediation took place. |