Oftentimes selected by the parents or ordered by family court, mediation is another increasingly common stop on the journey to finalizing child custody or a parenting agreement.  The family courts are so packed with litigants nowadays that they are literally looking for new, inventive, and yes – sometimes expensive – ways to keep parents and families out of the court room.  Mediation can be a helpful tool during this journey and can also help to cut your journey short with a successful ending.  This, of course, comes with a caveat.  There are people out there with such high-conflict personalities that almost no amount of professional intervention will help slow down the excessive litigator.

Up front, understand that use of a mediator doesn’t guarantee any specific outcome for your situation.  No good mediator will make such a guarantee or imply otherwise.  A good mediator will very likely make this the first order of business when entering into a relationship with you and your ex-spouse.

Mediators may come from any one or more areas of expertise, including, but not limited to:

  • Law practice
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Other Areas (that involve professional negotiation)

Much like seeking a therapist or counselor, choosing a mediator for a child custody matter also requires you have a certain comfort level and a rapport with them.  It most child custody cases, it might prove helpful to find someone with a family law background, a child counseling background, or a family therapy background with the understanding that they are in-tune with the family dynamic that divorce typically brings.  While mediation is not the practice of law, when it comes to child custody matters – having a working knowledge of the legal implications or laws that are a relevant part of your particular matter is also important.

Depending upon the rules and/or laws in your jurisdiction, a mediator involved in your child custody matter may require certain training and have particular qualifications.  If you enter into mediation privately, chances are that there are no rules governing their involvement in your child custody case.  However, in the cases where a mediator is somehow connected to the family court and judges may order mediation – there are likely educational, training, ongoing training, and/or other requirements in order for the court to order their use.  (Check with the rules in your state and locality.)  Make your decision to use a private mediator wisely.  Make sure that they can, at a minimum, provide you evidence of having taken a recent mediator-training course.  If a mediator cannot provide you a minimum of education, background, or experience with mediation, move on to find another one who can.

Nationally, you can contact organizations such as:

As with any professional organization or individual, don’t simply accept the word of your prospective hire as evidence of education or experience.  Do your homework and investigate.  Even someone who has completed a mediation training course may have zero experience and not have the necessary understanding of the complications associated with something as important as a child custody dispute.  Know that private mediation organizations typically require a level of experience to be part of the practice.  Ask for colleague referrals or simply check to see an affiliation with one of the organizations above.  Look to them for confirmation that they are experienced and well-respected.

What can you expect from a professional mediator?

Confidentiality!   Due to this sensitive nature of any child custody proceedings, issues discussed in mediation should remain confidential except for the purposes required by the family court (if court-order mediation).  If the mediation is private, full confidentiality is expected with exceptions of reportable matters as governed by statutes.  (You can ask the mediator about the organization has other mandatory reporting requirements about the mediation session or outcome.)

A quality mediator will reveal any conflicts of interest the moment that they come to light.  This may include prior knowledge of one of the parties involved in the mediation or collateral contacts.  It may mean some other issue that may cast doubt on their ability to remain neutral and objective in your matter.

Most mediators charge an hourly fee reflective of their knowledge, skills, abilities, training, experience and other qualifications. These fees may include prepartory time for the mediation sessions. If you use a community mediation organization, some will charge a modest fee or request a donation to cover the session.  Still others offer fees based upon a sliding scale.

You should never be charged a contingency fee or other fees based upon the outcome of the mediation efforts. A mediator should never give or receive commissions, rebates, or other payments for client referrals.  Finally, you should request and expect to receive a written description of the mediator’s fees and expected costs for the mediation effort.

Mediation is another effect choice for coming to a meaningful, fair parenting agreement in your child custody situation.  It doesn’t often work when one or both parties are high-conflict excessive litigants.  However, if you’re situation has any chance of benefiting from mediation, it is most certainly a much less costly alternative to constant litigation.  If you can avoid having the decision about how much time you will spend with your children made by a third-party, do it.

See also: Divorce and Child Custody Mediation Styles