Parenting Mediation for Custody and Visitation Disputes
For many parents, making decisions about child custody and parenting can be the toughest part of a separation or divorce. Some divorcing parents also have to deal with multiple financial issues, such as spousal support or division of marital property. Others can resolve such matters fairly simply. Parents who have never been married generally have the easiest time separating financially. Regardless of these differences, however, the emotional aspects of physically dividing a family into two can be devastating. Parenting mediation can be a great forum for parents to air concerns and resolve anxieties while working together to build a successful post-relationship parenting plan.
The anxiety many separating parents feel when dealing with parenting schedules is hardly surprising. Leaving one’s child with another caregiver, especially if that child is young, requires a high level of trust in the caregiver. Relationship breakups frequently involve loss of trust in the former partner. There may have been emotional or financial betrayal, prompting a deep sense of pain and loss. When former partners who have children together split up, they may suddenly have no choice about leaving their child for long periods of time with someone who, on at least some level, they no longer trust.
If you are struggling with this kind of situation, the following suggestions can help you decide whether or not parenting mediation would be a good choice in your case. If you do decide to give it a try, they will also help you build a positive mindset that will serve you well as you work through the process.
Try to separate your own feelings about your former partner from your observations of the latter’s parenting skills and love for your children. There are plenty of people who don’t do very well in adult relationships or are not great at handling finances, but still function well as loving and attentive parents. If you decide, after stepping back and thinking objectively, that you really can’t trust your ex to be an attentive parent, then talk to an attorney to discuss these concerns before even considering mediation. Your fears may well be reasonable in the presence of a serious issue like alcoholism, drug abuse, or a tendency toward violence.
If you have more garden-variety concerns, however, such as whether or not your ex will enforce bedtimes or help the children with homework, then mediation may be well worthwhile. Write your concerns down and discuss them in the presence of a mediator. Be careful to stick to voicing your own worries rather than attacking the other parent. If you can get to a place where you at least trust your ex to be a good caretaker, then put your emotional energy into letting go of any other feelings of disappointment or betrayal. A professional therapist can help you with this. Consider self-help options as well, such as practicing mindfulness.
Separate Issues Cleanly
Sometimes you will need to discuss several different financial issues together, since things like spousal support and division of marital property often interact with one another. Spousal support and child support also interact with one another, and the amount of time a child spends with each parent may affect child support. It can be tempting, therefore, to throw finances into discussions about custody and visitation. Try to avoid this temptation. Parents are usually able to maintain greater clarity by focussing solely on children’s needs while building a workable parenting plan, and addressing any financial concerns separately.
Focus on Your Child’s Needs
Often simply focusing specifically on a child’s day-to-day needs can help parents feel more in control and on the same page. Consider some of these questions:
- What specific child care tasks exist, and will one parent or both parents be well-able to handle these in light of their current living and employment situations?
- Will children’s school attendance or participation in extracurricular activities pose transportation issues for one or both parents?
- Do you need to consider the location or needs of other caregivers, such as extended family members?
- How old is your child now, and what changes in school attendance or extracurricular activities do you foresee in the near future?
- Does your child have a personality that will adapt easily to moving back and forth between homes, or would longer time periods in one or both homes be easier for the child?
Offer Specific Suggestions for Parenting Plans
Instead of getting too bogged down in details before looking at the broader picture, separately write-up your proposed parenting plans. Some parents will find that their proposals are surprisingly similar, while others will have a vast middle ground to cross before either of them feels satisfied. Comparing plans and discussing possible adjustments—as well as potential evolutions over time—can help you focus on mutually-beneficial problem solving.
Get Expert Help if you Need It
If the two of you end up spinning your wheels instead of closing the gap on your disagreements, consider enlisting the help of a child specialist. A child specialist is a licensed mental health professional with training and experience in working with families going through divorce. If you are at an impasse, consider hiring a joint expert to take a look at your family situation and perhaps attend a mediation session. A child specialist won’t take sides with either parent, but will provide both parents with information and guidance, and above all, will ensure that children’s needs stay at the forefront during parenting negotiations.
For more ideas on using mediation to resolve child custody issues, see: Children and Mediation.