Questions around the process of child custody mediation are often asked by our clients. We all know that going through a divorce is tough – for you, your ex-partner, for the children and wider family. When emotions are high and the future is uncertain, there can be a significant amount of conflict that arises in the decision making process, leading one or both partners to find themselves unable to compromise or reach a decision in the best interests of the children.
In Australia, as discussed in our recent child custody blog, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) suggests first and foremost that couples do not use the Courts where possible and instead engage in child custody mediation prior to escalating to the Court. Even where a parenting order application is made through the Court, the applicant will most likely be obliged to demonstrate that they have attempted to resolve their differences prior to having the Court intervene.
Custody is no longer a term used by the Family Law Courts, opting instead for terms associated with what time a child spends with each parent and what communications they will have. If it is safe, both parents are encouraged to play an active role in their children’s lives for the benefit of their wellbeing. However, it can be difficult to come to an agreed decision on issues such as health, living arrangements, finances and education.
When parents can’t agree during child custody mediation, that’s where a mediator comes in. Your family lawyer can organise for an experienced Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner to facilitate discussions between both parties in an impartial, calm manner. The goal of mediation is to come to an agreement approved on both sides that can by turned into either a Parenting Plan or approved by the Courts in a formal Consent Order if required.
Mediators are not there to make judgements or take sides. They are engaged to essentially chair a meeting between both parties, to facilitate proactive discussion in a safe, controlled environment that allows a resolution to be reached which is in their children’s best interests.
How do I go about getting a mediator?
There are a number of options for child custody mediation. The most cost effective being the use of the Family Relationship Centres, Family Relationships Australia or other public and community-based services. These services are able to assist parents to discuss the issues and potentially write up a new Parenting Plan. Legal representatives are not permitted in that process however.
Private child mediation services also exist, usually at a higher cost. Your family law can attend and represent you throughout the mediation. This can be helpful to receive advice on the spot regarding the law relating to your particular matter, your rights and the impact of any proposals. A solicitor can then draft the agreement terms on the day if it is appropriate, usually to be formalised soon after.
Going to Court is not usually a preferable course of action and is usually an expensive one. Mediation gives you the opportunity to come to an acceptable resolution swiftly and in a cost-effective way.
When isn’t mediation appropriate?
Sometimes, mediation isn’t an appropriate course of action, particularly in circumstances involving family violence. In such cases, the support of a lawyer can assist in effectively dealing with challenging cases to ensure your interests are protected. If there are allegations of abuse, your lawyer can advise whether the case should proceed in Court instead of with a mediator.
Should I seek legal advice before going into child custody mediation?
The most effective mediation happens when both parties have sought legal advice about their individual circumstance beforehand. You are much more likely to be prepared, to understand the probable outcomes, your options and how a Court might deal with your matter. By figuring this out in advance, and understanding your legal position, both parties are more likely to be more informed and will have considered in advance of negotiations what they are or aren’t willing to compromise on.
Your lawyer can come to mediation sessions and advise you as the session progresses. Sometimes mediation can become heated or tense when sensitive and important issues are addressed and having your lawyer with you ensures you have your say and your interests and those of your children are prioritised throughout.
How to approach mediation
Preparation is key to effective mediation. With the support of your lawyer, you can approach mediation with more of an open mind, ready to listen and to develop a mutually satisfactory agreement. Remember to keep your children and their best interests in mind and be aware of the impact of conflict on them. Importantly, it’s best to approach mediation as a place to solve parenting problems rather than bring up any other marital issues.
Mediation isn’t always smooth sailing, but by remembering that you are there to find a solution for your children and listening to the advice of your lawyer and guidance of the mediator, you are much more likely to reach a settlement that works for both of you.
What can be resolved in mediation?
The most common topics that are discussed and resolved in child custody mediation are things like living arrangements or relocation, child support, health issues, education and religion, how time will be split between parents and how school holidays will be spent, overseas travel and the division of payments for things like after-school activities.
What is the process of mediation?
When a mediator is appointed, each parent is normally invited to a pre-mediation meeting separately to establish whether the case is suitable for child custody mediation. If you have appointed a lawyer, they will advise you whether this is the case and what available options there are.
Both parties can then be asked to prepare a short statement to bring to the initial session, outlining what you hope to achieve from mediation.
Each mediation session can run for a shorter period, such as around three hours, or even a full day. In some cases, it can take a number of sessions to resolve some of the more significant issues. This is obviously expedited if both parties come prepared and willing to compromise.
If no agreement can be reached in mediation, then a certificate will be issued by the mediator. Either parent can then file for parenting proceedings in the Court. Such a certificate will also be issued if a genuine effort isn’t made by one parent to resolve the dispute, if a parent fails to attend or for another relevant reason.
I am considering child custody mediation, what should my next steps be?
Where possible, it would be prudent to speak to a family lawyer that can help you to understand your options prior to appointing a mediator. Daykin Family Law is expertly skilled in children’s and parenting matters including child custody mediation, and work closely with psychologists, social workers and mediators to help you and your family stay out of Court wherever possible. We can recommend a suitable mediator for your matter and assist in inviting the other parent to mediation.
At Daykin Family Law, we place a high importance on assisting clients to reduce conflict and maintain respect in the co-parenting relationship after separation as much as possible. Shannon Daykin is an experienced Family and Divorce Lawyer. An Accredited Family Law Specialist, Shannon was recently named as a Leading Family & Divorce Lawyer (Recommended, Brisbane) and Leading Parenting & Children’s Matters Lawyer (Recommended, Queensland) in the prestigious Doyle’s Guide 2018 and 2019. In 2019, Daykin Family Law was named in the Doyle’s Guide as a Leading Family & Divorce Law Firm (Recommended).
We give you expert legal advice on the most appropriate and cost-effective course of action for you and your family. Contact us on (07) 3338 5645 to make an appointment for a fixed fee initial consultation today.