Children need both parents. Except in cases where one parent is abusive or unable to provide proper care and supervision, children benefit when both Mom and Dad play major roles in their lives. Mediation helps parents figure out how to manage child care under a totally new set of circumstances.
Suggestion: Avoid the use of fighting words, such as "custody" and "visitation." These words set up a struggle overpossession of the children.
A more useful way for you to deal with the question of child care is to develop a parenting plan which describes the children's schedule with each of you. Your mediator will probably create this plan on a large, erasable wall calendar, asking for ideas as to when each of you would like to assume primary responsibility for the children's care.
Once a tentative parenting plan is created, your family can try it out for a month or two, before deciding whether or not to include it in your settlement agreement. If parts of the plan need fine-tuning, you can discuss proposed changes, then revise your plan until it works smoothly for all involved.
Some mediators permit older children to attend a mediation session to help with the parenting plan. If you decide to include your children, be sure that everyone understands the purpose of their participation. The children need to know that their input is important, but that you and your spouse will make the final decisions. Be careful not to put them in the difficult position of being asked which of you they want to live with.
Any parenting plan that you and your spouse create is likely to work if you both support it. If you see potential problems with the plan as you proceed through the mediation, bring them up and correct them before you sign the final agreement.
Remember, your children didn't cause the divorce. No matter what you do, they will pay a price for your decision to separate. However, it's up to you to keep that price as low as possible, even if it causes you inconvenience or decreases the amount of time that you spend with them.
Put your children at the center of your focus and concentrate on their needs. Set a photo of your children in front of you and your spouse on the mediation table. Recognize that if you end up fighting over your rights to custody or visitation, rather than working out a plan with your spouse, the children will be the victims, regardless of which parent "wins."
You and your spouse have the opportunity during mediation to cooperate in planning your children's future. Through careful planning, you can help your children view your family as rearranged into new homes, rather than torn apart and left in shreds.
Consider making co-parenting agreements that will keep both you and your spouse involved in your children's lives and minimize the friction.
Joint or sole custody may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and other factors that include 1) the preference of the child, 2) the desire and ability of each parent to allow an open and loving relationship between the child and the other parent, 3) the child's health, safety and welfare, the nature and contact with both parents and 4) the history of alcohol and drug use. Marital misconduct may be considered.
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