Child Custody Mediation in Maryland and DC Divorces

Learning, mother and child painting for an art preschool project with a young mom helping her daugh.

Often, when parents are getting divorced, custody and visitation rights are emotionally-charged issues that create havoc for the parents, children, and the Maryland/DC divorce court. It is obviously better for everyone if the parents can agree on custody, visitation, and other issues involving the child or children. In both Maryland and the District of Columbia, the divorce process requires that the parents create a joint parenting plan. Whether the parents can agree on enough issues to create a parenting plan is the first and primary indication of whether the parents can be agreeable about child-related issues. In the absence of an agreement, the Maryland/DC divorce court will have to resolve the legal issues.

However, one mechanism that can be used to help the parents formulate agreements is something called child custody mediation. This can be voluntary, or, in some cases, mediation can be ordered by the Maryland/DC divorce court.

Like other forms of mediation, child custody mediation involves the parents engaging with a person called a mediator. The mediation does not involve the divorce court or the judge, and the mediator is a neutral third party — neither for nor against either parent. The mediator’s task is to hear from both parents, talk with the child or children (if they are old enough), and gather other information that might be important and relevant. In child custody mediation, the mediator does not “make a decision.” Rather, the mediator offers opinions, and the mediator’s efforts are directed at helping the parents resolve their disagreements. The presence of a neutral third-party mediator — with specific skills and training — can be very helpful in limiting the emotions and anger that might be present.

The process involves the family meeting with the mediator. This typically includes older children who are of the age where they can express their own desires with respect to living arrangements. Often, the attorneys for each parent are involved. But, just as often, the mediator will exclude the attorneys from all or part of the proceeding. Generally, the mediator will meet with everyone and then individually with the parents and — maybe — any older children. The process is informal and generally conducted at a business office, maybe in a conference room with several separate small offices for individual discussions. Each side will often present a statement of the issues and their position. The mediator is generally given copies of the papers filed in the divorce proceedings so that the mediator can be familiar with the general issues in the divorce. The process often occurs on a couple of different days, with each session taking a couple of hours.

As noted, a child custody mediation does not result in a “decision.” Again, the mediator’s efforts are directed at helping the parents reach an agreement. So, sometimes, the mediation is a failure if the parents cannot agree on anything. However, most often, child custody mediations are successful to some degree or another. Even if the mediation results in agreement about only one issue — such as who “gets” the children on holidays — that is still a successful mediation. At a minimum, there is one less issue for the court to decide. Further, it is surprising that once parents agree on one issue, it becomes easier for them to agree on other issues. This can be important for the parents in their post-divorce relationship.

Family Law Attorneys in Maryland and DC

Contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. family law lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl for more information. We have the skills and expertise you need. We have proven experience with family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.

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