Whether your visitation mediation is court-ordered or voluntary, you should be prepared for your first session. Your children's welfare may depend on it.
Key Points to Consider
- Your mediator will probably file a report with the court about the mediation sessions. Even if you hire a private mediator, he or she may be called to testify during custody and visitation proceedings in court. Remember this and behave accordingly.
- Child visitation or parenting time has nothing to do with child support. If the other parent is behind in child support payments, do not address this during visitation mediation sessions. If you do mention child support in relation to visitation, you may convince your mediator (and thus the court) that you are holding your children hostage in exchange for support money.
- Keep angry emotions out of the mediation sessions. Demonstrate your emotional stability to the mediator. Your actions during mediation may well set the stage for future interactions with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, so maintain a positive demeanor.
- Your primary goal is to serve the best interests of your children in negotiating a visitation plan in a way that will protect your children and promote a healthy relationship with both parents.
Preparing for Visitation Mediation
Familiarize yourself with the following details prior to your first meeting:
- Terminology: If your state or county court system uses modern phrases like "parenting time" instead of "visitation," you need to use the same terminology or risk alienating your mediator. Study your state's custody and visitation laws as best you can.
- About Your Mediator: Find out as much as you can about your mediator in advance. Search her first and last name online in combination with words like "favoritism," "fair" and "complain." See what other clients say about whether she treated them fairly, and what her approach to mediation is.
- Location of Your Meeting: Go to the building before your first visitation mediation session. Find out where to park and get familiar with the setting. This will help reduce your tension and improve your ability to relax and accomplish your goals during mediation. Plan to be early for your appointment.
Know What the Other Parent's Goals Are
The more you can find out about what your spouse wants in advance, the better. If you can get the other parent to sign an agreement in advance, you can ask the mediator to review it and sign off on it. That's the best case scenario, though not the most common one. Likewise, if you know in advance that the other parent has a long list of unreasonable demands, you may want to add a few items to your own list so that you have something to "give" in exchange for his concessions. If the other parent has fewer demands than you do, you may need to re-think yours or be prepared to defend your position.
Know What You and Your Kids Want
You should already be well-prepared with a visitation plan of your own, and you need to balance that with your kid's wishes, especially if they are older. If your children know and can communicate their wishes, you should speak calmly with them before your mediation meeting to understand where they stand on the issues. Reassure them that it is safe to speak their minds, and that you won't be upset if they want to spend more time with the other parent. Take their wishes into consideration as much as is reasonable when mediating visitation.
If Domestic Violence is an Issue
- Be prepared to offer a neutral location to drop your children off and pick them up for visitation if the other parent has ever threatened or harmed you. If there are police reports or convictions of domestic violence, you may be able to force the other parent to pay for professional child-exchange services.
- Supervised visitation may be needed if the other parent has committed child abuse or neglect. Don't expect this to be required if nothing has been proven. Mediators and judges have seen too many false abuse allegations to order supervised visitation on a whim. Have the names of at least two professional supervisors available if you plan to ask for this. In most cases, it is not wise to ask a friend or family member to supervise visitation.
Things to Bring to the Meeting
Be as prepared as humanly possible for your visitation mediation meeting. You can always leave extra documentation and notes in your car and go out to retrieve them as needed. You don't want to tip your hand before a custody dispute by providing your spouse with all of your evidence during mediation, but you must be prepared to defend your position to the mediator.
- Bring a calendar with all holidays, work and school vacations marked accordingly, and a list of your proposed visitation schedule dates.
- Be prepared to take good notes during the meeting. You may need to refer back to them. Use a zippered binder to shield prying eyes from your notes.
- Bring well-organized notes, again in a zippered binder. Keep any documentation concealed that you don't want to reveal in advance if you are not forced to.
- Bring documentation of anything that supports your position if your ex will dispute it. For example, bring a list of dates and times that your ex failed to pick your children up on time for school if you are asking to be the only parent who will pick them up in the future.
Visitation mediation can prevent a court battle if you prepare well in advance and keep your cool during the meetings. Remember to keep your children's welfare in the forefront, and always consult an attorney in advance if you have any doubts or questions. Visitation mediation may well be your and your children's best chance at a peaceful future with the other parent, so prepare and participate to the best of your ability.