You decide not a stranger
The range of emotions that arise when a family with children splits up can be overwhelming. Complex decisions have to be made around the lives of children, which can cause among other things, anxiety, anger, stress, and resentment. Depending upon the age and developmental stages of the children they may be more or less attuned to the changes happening around them. Even the youngest of children is aware of stress and knows when mommy and daddy is, or is not, around. As the children get older, they may feel confusion or “caught in the middle.” Normalizing decisions around custody and keeping a sense of control and harmony over this difficult situation is essential to the child(ren)’ s well-being.
Unaware of the potential or possibility of mediation in custody matters, many families begin a case by filing for custody and the matter ends up in court—before a master or a judge. We suggest that keeping custody cases out of court, whenever possible, is perhaps one of the kinder and wiser things you can do for your family. Afterall, who knows your child or children better than you? How can a judge who does not know your children or the quirks of your family possibly be better at deciding what is better for your children than you?
Private mediation is a viable and underutilized option in custody. There are many things that can be decided by parents in a safe setting with appropriate guidelines. Among these are the obvious:
- custody – how the child’s time will be split between two homes, and when each parent will have time with the child(ren);
- Vacation and holiday schedules;
- Changeover times and places can be agreed to, including transportation arrangements.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Once the initial details are agreed to, parents in mediation can discuss and reach agreements about the things that are just superficially addressed in other settings. These are what we call the rights and responsibilities. Even if parents have reached an Agreement or a Custody Stipulation in the traditional arena, we find the nitty gritty details are not fleshed out because the document was written by lawyers. In mediation, Parents set the rights and responsibilities agenda and fully discuss issues and reach agreements. Among the topics, they may discuss:
- rules for each house- bedtimes, use of electronics, when children can be left alone, etc.;
- information sharing- medical information, school reports, events;
- communications- how will they talk with each other, how will the children talk with the parents, when, how often, on what devices;
- changes to routines;
- travel plans—family travel, business travel;
- changes in family makeup- introducing new “friends,” can someone move in, remarriage;
- new children etc.
In a custody mediation, parents should be asked to identify their goals, and perhaps to think about what they would like their child to say to them in the future about the job they did in raising the child through the divorce. We may ask parents to take the time to write a parenting statement addressed to the child(ren). If each parent takes the time to write this parenting statement about how he/she wants the children to remember the formative years during the divorce, it can have an enlightening impact of the discussions.
How would your children like decisions to be made about their future—by their parents, or by a judge? Perhaps that is a question to ask if you are about to file for custody or are in the midst of a custody matter right now. Then consider whether you want to explore mediation together. Who decides…you or a stranger?
For more information on custody mediation or other family law services, call Bookspan Family Law, LLC at 610 565 6200