North Carolina Family Lawyers

In many North Carolina counties, the individuals in a proceeding related to child custody are required to attend mediation prior to a permanent custody hearing is held. The Court System’s, website states in mediation: “guided conversation that allows people to exchange information and make decisions that can help them avoid going to court.” The custody mediator is a non-biased individual that meets with each party in the custody case in an effort to assist them in reaching an agreement that is agreeable to both and to avoid a contested custody court hearing.

The Process of Mediation

Once a custody or visitation complaint is filed, the court will refer the case to its Custody Mediation Program. The parties must attend an orientation session and one meditation session. Neither party gives up any rights by participating in mediation, nor are the parties required to reach an agreement. The mediator’s role is not to impose a predetermined solution on the parties. Rather, the mediator’s job is to guide the parties towards their own resolution.

Mediation sessions may last for up to two hours. If both parties and the mediator agree, additional sessions may be scheduled. Only the parties attend these sessions, and the discussions are private and confidential. If the parties come to an agreement regarding custody and visitation, the mediator prepares a draft Parenting Agreement for the parties to review with their attorneys. Although the attorneys may not be present during the mediation sessions, the court strongly urges the parties not to sign an agreement until after consulting a lawyer.

Once the parties have signed a Parenting Agreement, a judge must review it as well. If the judge approves, she also signs the agreement and it is incorporated into a court order. If the parties cannot compromise, the case proceeds to a judicial hearing.

Benefits of Custody Mediation

Mediation offers a variety of benefits. First, it allows the parties to avoid the stress and expense of litigation. Moreover, it may provide a template for cooperative co-parenting going forward. The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, in its Best Practices for Mediation 2014, suggests the following additional benefits derived from participating in custody mediation:

Parents’ co-parenting communication skills and self-determination increase;

Parents are empowered to identify and promote their children’s best interests; and

The emotional toll that litigation takes on families is reduced.

When Is Mediation Not Appropriate?

Custody mediation may not be appropriate in all circumstances. If one party has serious safety concerns for themselves or their children, the parties should not attempt to mediate. In addition, substance abuse or alcoholism by one or both parties may make mediation a poor choice. In those counties with mandatory mediation, the parties must ask to court to waive the mediation requirement.