Disputes in legal proceedings can be resolved; the question is, how do they get resolved? Child custody disputes can be resolved relatively quickly and inexpensively or in a lengthy and expensive proceeding. The path a child custody case takes is purely within the control of the parents as guided by their desire to retain control over the outcome, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of a third-party decision maker. Below are options to resolving child custody disputes that involve the quickest and least expensive methods.
Custody Mediation (through the Court)
Child custody mediation gives parents a chance to resolve disagreements about a parenting plan for their children. In mediation, the parents have the help of an expert (the mediator) in resolving these disagreements. If the parents are able to work out an agreement, the mediator helps the parents write a parenting plan that may then become a custody and visitation order if it is signed by a judge. In some jurisdictions, this service is called “child custody recommending counseling” because the mediator (called a “child custody recommending counselor”) can give a written recommendation to the parents and the court if the parents cannot agree to a parenting plan. In Los Angeles County, the mediation is confidential; the mediator will not provide a recommendation to the court and will not share with the court what transpired in mediation. Once a divorce or paternity action is commenced, this mediation service is free of charge and typically lasts for two hours. Generally, lawyers do not participate in the mediation process with their clients.
Custody Mediation (private)
Private mediation has a similar method and same goal as the mediation provided through the court. However, there is no time limit on the process (compared to court mediation which is typically two hours in length). In private mediation the parties can select their mediator and the mediator is paid by the hour for his or her services.
Using lawyers to negotiate custody issues works best when both parties have lawyers and both lawyers are resolution minded. This process is more expensive than mediation because now the parties are not speaking directly to each other, as they do in mediation, but are relying on their lawyers to negotiate and convey the messages back and forth between the parents and again with the other lawyer. This is typically more expensive than mediation because each party is now paying their lawyers’ hourly rates to negotiate on their behalf.
All these dispute resolution options are cooperative in nature and cost-effective. They essentially keep control of the custody decision in the parents’ hands, provided they can reach an agreement. When this is not possible, more complex strategies are needed, and these will be discussed in next week’s blog post.