by Brette Sember
If you are going through a divorce or are having a custody or visitation dispute, mediation is an option you should consider. When you go to court, a judge who doesn't know you or your children makes decisions about how you're all going to share your time. The outcomes are usually pretty scripted without a lot of creativity. Mediation puts the power back into the hands of the parents.
How Mediation Works
In mediation, the parents meet with a neutral mediator (who usually has background as a lawyer or therapist). The mediator helps the two parents find solutions that work for their lives, instead of making those decisions for them as a judge would do. The mediator encourages you to look at the situation from all angles, think of possible solutions, and compromise to reach decisions that work for your family. If you have teens, the mediator may encourage them to participate in a session and express their opinions about the parenting schedule.
Why Choose Mediation
In addition to the fact that mediation gives you and the other parent the power to create a parenting plan that meets your individual needs, it also has other benefits. Mediation is less expensive than hiring attorneys and is almost always faster than a trial.
Mediation helps you not only today but in the future as well. Because you learn conflict resolution skills, mediation prepares you to solve future disagreements on your own, so that you aren't always running back to court to fight over who should have your child for Christmas each year. A key benefit of mediation is the flexibility it gives you to create unique solutions that meet your individual family's needs.
Perhaps the most important reason to choose mediation is because it benefits your children. Parents who mediate are less angry with each other. Although they may disagree, they are committed to working together to finding a plan that will work for the family. Because of this, they experience less conflict and expose their children to less fighting.
Parents who mediate demonstrate to their children that they respect the other parent and support the relationship that parent has with the child. Mediation generates a parenting plan that has what is best for the children as the primary concern. Parents are able to work around the kids' schedules and activities and maximize time with both parents. Mediation also teaches your children an important lesson -- that it is better to work out your problems than to fight about them.
How to Find a Mediator
Do an online search to locate your state or city mediation association. They will have a list of mediators in your area. You can also call your state or local bar association and ask for information.
Once you get a list, call a few and ask some preliminary questions, such as what their credentials are and if they just do mediation or practice in other areas.
Always schedule a free consultation to get a feel for the person and his or her style. Even if you are currently in the middle of an ongoing court case, you can put a hold on the proceedings and go see a mediator to determine if you can work the conflict out yourselves.
How to Be Successful in Mediation
Enter into mediation with as open a mind as possible. Obviously, you have a clear idea of what is acceptable to you and what isn't when it comes to custody, but there may be some solutions you have not considered. Speak up about what you think and how you envision resolving the conflict.
Meet with an attorney for a consultation before you go into mediation so that you completely understand what your rights are under your state's laws -- this helps you understand how a court might rule in your situation. Be patient. Don’t expect everything to be resolved in the first session. It takes time to talk through all the issues and possible solutions.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:
- The Divorce Organizer & Planner
- The Complete Divorce Handbook: A Practical Guide
- How to Parent with Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best Interest
- No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation.
Learn more about Brette on her web site.
Copyright © Brette McWhorter Sember. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.