The Custody Mediation Program addresses issues of child custody and visitation. Once a case involving custody or visitation is filed, the case is sent to the Custody Mediation Program. The court then orders the parties to attend an orientation session and at least one Custody Mediation.
Prior to attending a mediation session with your spouse, discuss with your attorney the issues you intend to mediate. In particular, be sure to discuss the impact of custody and parenting time arrangements on child support.
Enlist your attorney’s support in identifying your intentions for the mediation. Make a list of the issues important to you. For example, when it comes to your child, you might consider whether it is your child’s safety, the parenting time schedule, or the ability to attend your children’s events which concerns you more.
Be forward looking. Giving thought to your desired outcomes while approaching mediation with an open mind and heart is the best way to move closer to settlement.
Though the particulars vary from county to county, usually within 30 days of the case arriving at the Custody Mediation Program, an orientation is scheduled. In a group class, the orientation prepares you for the Custody Mediation.
In the Custody Mediation, the mediator will meet with you and your spouse alone, without anyone else present, including your lawyers. A Custody Mediation lasts around two hours. If all parties (including the mediator) agree, additional sessions can be scheduled. Only the parties named in the lawsuit are present for mediation.
Custody Mediation sessions are private. Unless the mediator witnesses a crime, hears a criminal threat, or is concerned about child abuse, the mediator will not tell anyone (including the judges and attorneys) about what is discussed in the Custody Mediation.
If everyone agrees to a plan, a parenting agreement is drafted by the mediator. If everything is not agreed upon in the Custody Mediation, the case proceeds to the court for trial.
Review by your attorney
Before giving your written or final approval to any agreements reached in a Custody Mediation, it is critical that your attorney review the agreements first. This is necessary to ensure that you understand the terms of the settlement and its implications. Your attorney will also review the agreement for compliance with North Carolina law.
Reach an agreement? What next?
After the parties and their attorneys have reviewed the parenting agreement, the parenting agreement is signed and presented to the judge for his or her signature, incorporating it into a court order.
Custody Mediations may be waived by court order if either side proves undue hardship. Some examples of undue hardship are: Living more than 50 miles away from the court; abuse or neglect of the minor children; abuse of a spouse by the other spouse; severe psychological, psychiatric, or emotional problems; alcoholism or drug abuse by one of the parties; and abuse of a spouse. Custody Mediations may also be waived if both sides agree to a private mediation.
Selection and Payment of Mediator
At the time of this writing, the State of North Carolina assigns and pays the mediator for the Custody Mediation.