What to expect from family court mediation

When you divorce or live apart from your child’s other parent, it is important that you develop a plan that describes how each of you will spend time with your child separate from the other parent. Each county court offers mediation where professionals help parents come up with a parenting plan agreement.

Mediation focuses on the best interests of children

Family law is based on the idea that children have a right to frequent and continuing contact with both parents. The primary focus of mediation is to make sure your child maintains a healthy relationship with you and the other parent.

Mediation allows parents to talk with each other about their child’s needs

Mediators are trained mental health professionals who are knowledgeable about child development, family dynamics, and the effects of separation, divorce, and trauma.

A mediator meets with both parents, listens to each of you, and then works with you so you can come up with a plan you can both agree is best for your child.

The mediator's job is to be impartial, keep things fair, help you look at different options, help you come up with a calendar for times with your child, and support you in your efforts.

Tell the mediator right away. You can ask the court to be in separate rooms. Or you may be able to have a mediation appointment at a different time. Ask your mediator what options you have to feel safe.

Mediation helps parents create a parenting plan

The most important goal of family court is to create parenting plans that work best for children and their unique needs.

The court believes that parents should make their own plans for their child since parents know their child and their child’s needs.

A parenting plan will deal with things like how you will make important decisions for your child, such as health care and education (called legal custody). The plan will also describe who your children live with most of the time (called physical custody), and how your child spends time with each parent (called parenting time or visitation).

Keep in mind that your parenting plan will change over time as your children grow and have different needs.

There are limits to what can be discussed in mediation

Mediation only addresses the legal and physical custody of the child and parenting time.

Issues that are not discussed in mediation:

  • Evidence against the other parent
  • Child support
  • Spousal support

You’ll talk about these issues with the judge in court.

Do not bring your children to mediation.

You must attend an orientation before going to mediation

If you have never gone to mediation before, or if it’s been a long time, you will have to go to orientation.

  • Some courts have their orientation online, some are in person, and some provide a combination of these methods.
  • Some will order you to go to orientation before your mediation appointment.
  • Some will have you do your orientation the same day of your mediation.

Check your court’s website for the programs offered by Family Court Services.

If you reach an agreement, you will have a court order

  • If you reach an agreement in mediation

    If you and your children’s other parent reach an agreement in mediation, the judge will review it and decide whether to approve it. If approved, the judge will sign it and you will be done. You will have a court order.
  • If you don't reach an agreement

    If you don’t reach an agreement in mediation, then the judge will make the decision about custody and parenting time in your case. Sometimes, it may happen the same day of mediation. Other times, you will have to return to court to see the judge.

There are two different types of mediation

Some courts use mediation, others use child custody recommending counseling.

There are a few differences, so it can be helpful to find out which one your court uses so you know what to expect.

Video: Orientation to family mediation

This 30-minute video describes the mediation process, provides helpful information about parenting plans, and offers tips on how parents can reduce conflict and help their children adjust to the changes happening in their family.

family court mediation

What's next?

Before your court date, and even before you go to mediation, you can start to prepare for your court date.  Find out about some ways to prepare for your day in court by gathering evidence and planning what you will say. Learn tips for your day like when to arrive and how to refer to a judge, and find out what to expect on the day of your hearing.

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