Guest post from David Festin
In my third year of law school, I had a great opportunity to take a class on judicial administration, focusing my semester-long research paper on alternative dispute resolution, and specifically, court-ordered child custody mediation in North Carolina. What I found in my research was a promising outlook on the effectiveness and positive results of this free service through the North Carolina court system.
Now working in family law, I have found the research to be on point. But what does court-ordered child custody mediation entail and what are its pros and cons? I’ll spare you the agony of reading my twenty-six page research paper and offer a practical discussion here.
- What does Child Custody Mediation entail?
If you file a claim for child custody in North Carolina, you are required to attend child custody mediation. As with any rule, there are exceptions, and you should speak with your attorney to see if any of them apply to your circumstances.
At mediation, there will be no attorneys present; only both parties and the mediator. If you have other issues besides child custody such as child support, post separation support/alimony, equitable distribution, etc., you will be prohibited from bringing them up while in mediation. The mediation is focused solely on building consensus on a child custody arrangement.
In the event that you and your significant other can come to an agreement in mediation, the mediator will draft a Parenting Agreement reflecting the agreed upon terms. The Parenting Agreement will then be adopted by the court as if it was ordered by your assigned judge and will be an enforceable order. The issue of child custody has been resolved. If you cannot reach an agreement, you’ll simply proceed with regular litigation on the issue of child custody through the court system.
- The “Pros” of Child Custody Mediation.
There are many benefits of Child Custody Mediation, but to enumerate them all here would be impractical. Below are three benefits I think have the most impact.
- The parents are in control. One of the most common criticisms I hear from clients after going through a full-blown custody trial is that the judge ordered something that doesn’t necessarily fit with what the child actually needs or either parents’ value system. Child Custody Mediation gives you and your significant other the opportunity to come up with an arrangement that fits what both of you think is the best for your child.
- Child custody trials are expensive and this service is free. If you read my previous blog, you should have gotten the sense that getting a divorce can be expensive. It’s even more so when children are involved. A contentious child custody trial and everything leading up to it can cost well into five figures. Child Custody Mediation gives you a chance to bring a quick and early resolution to child custody so that your child has immediate stability and you save on attorney’s fees.
- Looking to the future. Unsurprisingly, people going through separation and divorce tend to dwell on the past. It can be like a poison that slowly eats away at your potential happiness going forward with a new life. In Child Custody Mediation, it’s the mediator’s role to help parties look to the future of how to care for their child. Although this is specific to agreeing on how to parent the child going forward, I think the process serves as a good reminder to look and move forward with your life, and not dwell on the past.
- The “Cons” of Child Custody Mediation.
I will openly admit that I’m a huge proponent of Child Custody Mediation. But after doing research and reflecting on client experience in my professional career, I can safely say there’s not really any downside; only upside. The one blemish I can point out with certainty is that sometimes your significant other is just completely unreasonable — you know with reasonable certainty that no agreement will be reached and it’ll be simply going through the motions so that you can proceed to your first trial. At the end of the session, at least you know you gave it good faith effort, and you were ordered to go by the court anyway.
I hope this primer on Child Custody Mediation was informative and insightful. If you are interested in the process in greater detail, feel free to schedule an initial consultation with one of our attorneys, take a look at our handout on the Child Custody Mediation process, or refer to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Court’s booklet, “Putting Children First” here.
Until next blog, keep your head up, stay positive, and we’ll help get you through this.
Parker Herring Law Group, PLLC has a Board Certified attorney with 30 years of experience who can help you with your custody case. Contact E. Parker Herring at email@example.com or her law clerk David Festin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both can be reached at the law office at 919-821-1860.