Divorcing parents in North Carolina and around the country generally want the best for their children, but that does not mean child custody and visitation negotiations always go smoothly. Leaving these decisions up to family law judges could result in a situation where nobody leaves the court happy, which is why many divorcing parents choose to pursue mediation when efforts to reach an amicable agreement at the negotiating table fail.
The mediation process
During mediation proceedings, the disputing parties identify common ground and then work toward a resolution. Mediators act as neutral third parties and focus on keeping the discussions on track. In North Carolina, all contested visitation and custody issues are referred to the Custody Mediation and Visitation Program unless a family law judge waives the requirement. When custody and visitation issues are referred to the program, parents must attend an orientation class and at least one mediation session.
Mediation sessions rarely last longer than three hours. Mediators may encourage parents to see both sides of an issue and make suggestions to break an impasse, but they cannot impose decisions in the way judges can. When a child custody and visitation agreement cannot be reached during mediation in North Carolina, the case is added to the family court calendar.
Making a good faith effort
Experienced family law attorneys may advise divorcing parents to do all that they can to resolve thorny issues without going to court, and they could urge them to make a good faith effort to reach an agreement during child custody mediation sessions. This is because judges tend to read the reports prepared by child custody mediators closely, and they could view parents who did not give the sessions a chance unfavorably. Attorneys could also remind parents that judges consider the best interests of the child when making these decisions and usually lean toward shared custody arrangements.