Experts have discovered that parental conflict is one of the primary reasons that divorce is so traumatic for children. This is why many parents try mediation as they develop a custody agreement.
But how and why does mediation work?
According to the American Bar Association, mediators have training in conflict resolution. Except in cases involving harmful circumstances such as domestic violence or substance abuse, a mediator is likely to be able to help a couple work through their differences. The person mediating is a neutral third party and will not take sides with one parent or the other.
The mediator listens to the outcomes each parent wants and then works to meet as many of these as possible. Couples should go into the meeting with prioritized lists. They should be honest with themselves and each other about what they need and what they can compromise on. For example, if a parent works every weekend, he or she may need to spend weekdays with the child instead. A parent who travels frequently may need a more flexible schedule and visitation through video chats.
Parents who cannot sit across the table and have a civil conversation may still be candidates for mediation. A mediator may meet with one parent at a time and help them work through their differences separately to reduce the potential for emotional disputes. More than one session may be necessary.
Mediators have training specific to custody laws and what the courts require and prefer regarding parenting plans. So, once parents reach an agreement through mediation, a judge will almost always sign it without changes. This saves both time and money in the long run, as the couple does not have to worry about a drawn-out court battle. Mediation is also private, while court proceedings are a matter of public record.
Couples who come to their own agreement are typically happier with the outcome and more likely to stick to it than those cases where judges determine the outcome. Working together and learning the dispute resolution tactics often carries over into future discussions, as well, paving the way for calmer co-parenting and less stress for children.