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Why Mediation is Good for Your Kids
As a domestic relations mediator, I work with a lot of families that include children. The parents have reached a point of no return, where it is no longer possible to "work it out" with each other. Understandably, the parents are often feeling betrayed, hurt, rejected, unloved, ambushed, cheated, and a whole host of other emotions. The last thing many parents want to do is sit in the same room with each other and work out a custody and parenting time arrangement for the children.
The parents' body language at the start of our first mediation tells the whole story: I hate that person. I do not want to be here. This will not work and we are wasting our time. This is what I hired an attorney for.
However, as the session progresses, the focus shifts from the other parent to the children. As I often remind parents, no matter how much they disagree about everything else in their relationship at this point in time, the one thing that they can agree on is that they love their children, that they have wonderful children, and that their children deserve the very best in life. Once this point is reached, the discussion often becomes productive, with each parent becoming more willing to hear the other parent out, work out the details, and come up with a plan that works for them and, more importantly, their children. This is good for the children.
Some parents are told by friends, family members, new significant others, and sometimes even attorneys, not to compromise in mediation. Take the case to trial, get sole custody, and punish the other parent for all the horrible things that happened during the relationship. When this happens, the ill-advised parent often spends thousands of dollars in attorney's fees on countless motions and court appearances - I have heard stories of $40,000 to $60,000 in attorney's fees alone. The Judge does not want to have all that mudslinging going on in the courtroom, and will generally order a Custody and Parenting Time Evaluation. In this type of evaluation, a neutral third party meets with each parent, observes the parent-child interactions, and interviews any other persons that the parents designate - teachers, neighbors, family members, pastors, etc. The cost for this evaluation is a minimum of $1,500 and can cost up to $10,000 depending upon the education, training, and experience of the evaluator. The evaluator prepares a report, and the Court either follows the evaluator's recommendation, or orders the parents back to mediation to work out a plan that follows the evaluator's recommendation.
Waging war with the other parent is not only expensive, but time consuming. While all of this is pending, there is an emotional, financial, and psychological toll on each parent. Children are very sensitive, and while a parent may take every precaution to shield the children from the hostility and worry, the children always know. They show it with their inability to sleep, or by sleeping too much. The grades start to decline. The children no longer want to be at home with either parent, and spend all of their free time with their friends or on the computer, or they isolate themselves from their friends. They are grieving. Their world has been shattered, and the parents are too engaged in their war to see what is happening to their children.
Mediation offers the parents the opportunity to make their own decisions about how to continue raising their children. Because the parents make the decisions, they are more likely to stick to the agreement that they have reached, than comply with an arbitrary court order that does not meet their or their children's needs. Even if all of the issues are not resolved in mediation, at least the scope of the issues can be narrowed down, minimizing the legal fees to resolve what could not be resolved in mediation.
When mediation of the custody and parenting time issues is successful, this often opens the door to mediating the rest of the domestic relations issues - distribution of the assets and debts, transfer of title to property, etc. Once the dialog has been started, people find it easier to continue to work with each other to resolve the remaining issues. The tension in each household melts away, the children learn that there are positive ways to resolve conflict, and most importantly, the children know that they are loved, and that their parents are able to continue to effectively co-parent them.
Oregon Courts decide child custody when the parents cannot. The court considers the best interests of the child when making a ruling. Child support payments are based on an income shares model. Each parent is required to contribute financially to their child's upbringing and each person's share is calculated in proportion to their income. Each parent must provide copies of his or her W-2s to verify income. Along with the income statements, the court considers each parent's ability to borrow funds, earning capacity, and the child's needs. The court may order the parent paying child support to buy a life insurance policy and keep it in force so that the child will still be supported if the parent dies before he or she reaches the age of majority.
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