Going to mediation in divorce and parentage cases is a vital step in seeking early resolution for child custody disputes. In many cases, mediation is mandatory. When planning for mediation, it is super important to think carefully about timing your mediation. Is it better to mediate sooner or later? Before anything gets filed or after your first hearing?
First and foremost, timing for mediation will likely depend on your jurisdiction. Mediation rules and procedures for custody hearings vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Find out about the local rules and norms for hearing and mediation from a divorce, parents’ rights, or custody attorney or a mediator who specializes in family law cases near you.
Once local rules and norms for mediation are taken into account, you should consider whether to hold mediation early or later.
According to Attorney-Mediator Jonathan Felt, the biggest factor to consider is how far apart you and the other party are from reaching an agreement. If you have already talked with your soon-to-be ex and have already worked out most or all of the key provisions (like parent time, child support, what will happen to the house, and division of bank accounts, debts, vehicles, and other assets) then early mediation is the best option – as soon as possible. In most jurisdictions, a family law mediator or divorce/custody attorney can meet with both parties together, draft an agreement, and start the process right away to formalize custody or divorce. You might be able to avoid paying for an attorney’s help altogether. More importantly, early resolution (rather than fighting in court) is the best way to help preserve the co-parenting relationship, making later co-parenting and parent time much easier.
Sometimes, mediating right away is not the best option. If the parties are not close to agreeing, it may be best to go to court first to establish Temporary Orders before attending mediation. That way both parties may have a better, more realistic expectation (often set by the court) about outcomes for their case. If one party is being unreasonable, that party may not be ready to settle until they hear from the Court that they are being completely unreasonable.
Other times to wait for mediation include, for example, when one party (or both) has a difficult or non-traditional work schedule. When parties separate, it can take time to reach a new normal. The parties might want to work out a 50/50 parent time schedule but the realities of the work schedule make a 50/50 share unworkable. Or, another example, one party might be prone to making promises or having high expectations and then not being able to keep them. One party might not have the finances, time, or other resources to keep up in the long run with their ideal parent time split. In these or similar cases, it may be best to agree on a temporary parent time schedule, then let the schedule run for four to six month to see how everything goes before going to mediation.
Timing in mediation can make a big difference. It is important to think about the possible advantages or disadvantages of doing early mediation versus waiting before mediation.