Parenting Agreements and Mediation
Last month, we talked about what kind of information you need to resolve financial disagreements in divorce mediation. Today we will look at what kind of information you need to address child custody and parenting issues. To create a good parenting agreement, you and your coparent will need to decide how to divide both physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody governs how much time a child spends with each parent. Legal custody governs each parent’s decision-making authority.
Custody decisions can be emotionally challenging. This is especially true if either parent is concerned about the other’s parenting ability, or if parents have big differences of opinion about what children need. Ideally, both of you will work together with the common goal of building the best possible parenting plan for your children. This is admittedly easier for some parents than others. Parents who have separated amicably have an advantage. Having some disagreements at the outset in not disqualifying, however. Even if you are in the midst of a contentious divorce, mediation can help you put aside your differences and focus on your children.
Choosing Mediation for Parenting Disputes
Mediation tends to be a much better forum for resolving parenting differences than litigation. The adversarial structure of litigation can contribute to black and white thinking. This can cause parents to become entrenched into rigid positions. Mediation, on the other hand, encourages open-mindedness and creative problem solving. A skilled parenting mediator can provide you with sample parenting schedules and encourage you to brainstorm about the different possibilities.
Factors to Consider when Building a Parenting Agreement
Parents often come into mediation with an expectation of how much time they should have with their children. While it is good to know what your preferences are, it is also good to keep an open mind. Take time to really assess how all aspects of your life and your coparent’s life will impact on your children’s needs.
Here are some questions that you should be able to answer up front. If you have more than one child, run through the list for each of them:
- How much does each parent currently participate in childcare?
- Which specific parenting tasks do each of you perform?
- Do either of you want the division of parenting tasks to change going forward?
- How old is your child?
- Is your child easily upset by frequent changes in environment or schedule?
- How organized and able to keep track of belongings is your child?
- Where do each of you currently live?
- Are either of you contemplating a move?
- How confident are you in your ability to get along with each other for the benefit of your child?
- What are your respective work demands, and are these likely to stay the same?
- How far will each of you live from your child’s school?
- What kind of time and transportation requirements do your child’s extracurricular activities require?
- How close will each of you be to other caregivers, including extended family members?
These are just some basic questions to get you started. As you begin to answer them, more questions will likely occur to you.
Get Extra Help if you Need It
Some parents work through the issues relatively easily and reach a workable agreement fairly quickly. Others get stuck and find that they need additional help. If you are in the latter group, your mediator can help you find a child custody specialist. Be sure to choose a licensed mental health professional with experience working with families that are restructuring due to divorce. Hiring a joint specialist to help you through a collaborative process like mediation is generally far less expensive than hiring individual experts and fighting out disagreements in court. It is also usually much less stressful for the entire family.
In our next post, we will talk more specifically about common parenting schedules and terms that you need to be sure to include in your parenting plan. Meanwhile, if you are ready to work on your parenting agreement, or if you need more information about the mediation process, contact one of our experienced and compassionate divorce mediators today.