What to negotiate in custody mediation
Navigating custody litigation can be be quite daunting with or without legal representation. Cumberland County Courts have attempted to alleviate some of the backlog of cases by requiring custody mediation as a mandatory step prior to any permanent hearing. Custody mediation is an excellent opportunity for parties to establish a custodial arrangement that is unique to their situation. No attorneys or Judges are involved in custody mediation. Only the parties and the mediator are involved. Keep in mind that going to mediation unprepared will decrease the chance of a successful resolution. Who wants to come back to court because of a poorly drafted custody agreement? So how does one prepare for custody mediation? Here are some questions to consider:
Does a party plan to move from current location in the near future? A provision dealing with how to do the exchange will be helpful. Normally if long distance travel is involved the parties can either meet each other halfway or split the cost of travel.
Does a party anticipate a change in work schedule that could disrupt visitations? A provision dealing with the Right of First Refusal may be appropriate in this circumstance. This applies when a party has to be out of the home more than a day for work related purposes. If so, then the other party can be given the first choice of being the babysitter. This will not work in cases where the parties live long distance from each other.
Are there any other children living with a party not of the parties' relationship? Usually in cases where a party has a custody arrangement for another child from another relationship, it may be a good idea to sync the new arrangement with the other so that there is continuity, and the half siblings can interact with one another.
Is there a significant other/new partner that will be around the children? To avoid a revolving door of partners being introduced to the children, you may want to consider a provision that states the children will not be introduced to a love interest until after at least three months of exclusive dating, and no overnights while the children are present until at least six months of exclusive dating.
Is there a history of domestic violence in the relationship? In this type of situation avoiding as much interaction with the other party is a good idea. Exchanges should occur in a public place or a law enforcement center. Communications should only be in text or email. Third parties such as a mutual friend or family members should be designated to assist with any supervision of visitations. Note: if the children's safety is an issue, mediation is not appropriate way to resolve custody. It should be heard in front of a judge.
Will the children be involved in extracurricular activities that may interfere with visitation? Parties should use best efforts to avoid scheduling anything that would interfere with the other party's time, however, if a child is truly interested in an activity such as sports, then both parties should compromise for the sake of the child. For example if a child has a football game that may interfere with the other party's time, then a provision dealing with make up days may resolve that issue.
Hopefully, these questions will help you develop a framework for your custody agreement.