When parents come to mediation to settle issues related to child custody (parental responsibility and timesharing), the experience and demeanor of the mediator is a key component. There are many do’s and don’t’s for the mediator. I believe these four tips are very important to the success or failure of the mediation.
First, do not lecture the parent on parenting. Every parent believes they know their child best and what is best for their child. You, a stranger, are not going to suddenly break through their defenses and teach them otherwise.
Instead, do draw out from them values, skills, and tasks that they feel they do well. From there, explore where they need support or help. Try to have them articulate anything the child gets positively from the other parent. This leads them to acknowledge that sharing parenting is good for themselves and their child.
Second, do not undermine the parent’s lawyer by leaving them out of the discussion.
Instead, empower the lawyers. Ask the lawyer what remedies and procedures could they recommend, based on their knowledge and experience, to deal with the issues or conflicts. What have they seen in other cases? The more authoritative their lawyer, the more their lawyer can assist the parent to accept reasonable compromises.
Third, when you anticipate conflict over parenting, do not start global.
Instead, go from general to specific in digestibly small chunks. First, deal with parental responsibility. If they can’t agree on shared, versus shared but with ultimate, versus sole, then they are never going to get to the specific day to day schedule. If you achieve agreement on parental responsibility, go on to overnights, then to holidays. Then you can go on to support issues beginning with base child support. Then the add-ons such as insurance and day care, and extras.
Fourth, do not accept defeat.
Instead, if an impasse seems likely, try to suggest services they could agree upon to access and use before returning to mediation. This might be something like both parents speaking to outside sources such as teachers, guidance counselors, or a child development specialist. Or, it might be having an evaluation done. Keep the parties and attorneys on the track of believing that settlement is possible, and preferable to having a judge decide.
For more information about Joy A. Bartmon go to http://www.bartmonfamilylaw.com/about-joy-bartmon/
Resources for Best Interests of the Child Standards: http://family.findlaw.com/child-custody/focusing-on-the-best-interests-of-the-child.html; http://childcustodyproject.org/essays/best-interests-of-the-child/;