All About Child Custody Mediation in Massachusetts
Determining child custody in Massachusetts is a heart-rendering and involved process. Parents find themselves in a constant state of stress as they wait for courts to decide the best home for their children.
But there is an alternative that offers better control and less conflict. Child custody mediation allows parents to discuss the best arrangements for them and their children. The result is effective co-parenting and a better experience for children. Here is what to know about this option.
The Adversarial Approach to Child Custody
Normally, the fight to win custody of your children is a long drawn-out process that causes stress to all involved. Sometimes, it is necessary but if you can avoid it, that is often your best option.
When a Complaint for Divorce, Paternity or Modification for a previous child custody agreement is filed, judges might be tasked with making a temporary and immediate decision based on the “best interest of the child.” Theoretically, this places children’s needs first and neither parent starts out at an advantage in the proceedings. The court considers schools, current parental involvement, and the mental, physical, and emotional health of the child. These temporary orders usually set the direction of the litigation and guide the parents to a final settlement but they aren’t necessarily fair due to the court’s limited resources and quick turnaround.
If the parents cannot settle, then the judge will have to hold a trial and he will render a final decision based on testimony and, if available, the report of a guardian ad Litem, who acts as an investigator and makes recommendations to the judge. During the course of the proceedings, the guardian ad Litem interviews children, both parents, teachers, and health care providers, including pediatricians and counselors. They also watch the children interact with the parents to see the quality of the relationship.
Most judges follow the recommendations of the guardian ad Litem report. This includes the party best suited to be the primary parent and any parenting time recommendations. Likewise, if a guardian ad Litem sees two perfectly good people who have much to offer the child, they may also recommend joint custody.
While this is a often an effective process, it is also time consuming, expensive, and emotionally challenging. The day the guardian ad litem releases their report is often one of anxiety and sometimes, the results are disappointing. This can happen even if you present the best version of yourself and do everything you can for your children.
Advantages of Mediation
A parenting plan can be determined by the court but you also have the option of drafting your own with the cooperation of the other parent. Unless the result is egregiously against the children’s interests, a judge will approve these agreed plans.
Mediation creates the environment for this agreement. This is nearly impossible in a litigation situation; as the proceedings become more tense and emotional, both parties are likely to dig in their heels. There are many cases where discussion and agreement become impossible because people let their hurt take over and that often overlooks the needs of their children.
Another problem with the adversarial approach is the lack of control. You are letting a complete stranger analyze your family situation and make conclusions that ultimately determine the long-term relationship with your child. While this may work in your favor, there is also a chance that the guardian ad Litem will be unimpressed with you and limit your parenting time.
Mediation places this control back with parents. It provides a discussion setting where each party can explain their needs and concerns. This allows empathy and partnership to rule rather than a desire to “win” in litigation.
Many of our clients find they are better co-parents once they are not living with or married to the other party. They can look beyond the anger and disappointment and build a civil relationship. This will only help your children.
It also eliminates issues where there is agreement and outlines them clearly. While this may not eliminate the need for an adversarial proceedings, it reduces costs by limiting the issues where there is argument. That can reduce guardian ad litem involvement and encourage productive testimony so judges can make a good decision.
When Mediation is Appropriate
There are circumstances where mediation is not your best option. Marriages and partnerships where there was abuse, substance addiction, severe mental illness, and financial fraud are not cases where mediation is appropriate. This is especially true if there is a power and control dynamic between the parents that makes discussion impossible and leaves one party vulnerable and intimidated.
If a parent requires treatment for an addiction or illness, it is likely visitation needs to be supervised or limited. In these cases, it is best for a guardian ad Litem to make that determination and recommend a timeline for when visitation options can expand. This plan may even include random drug tests, counselor reports, and other monitoring.
Therefore, mediation is most appropriate when you simply have two good people who can no longer stay together. If there is an equal power dynamic and both parties are not shy about their needs, discussing child custody in mediation is a low-conflict approach with a high rate of success. Plus, you will save money on attorney fees and enjoy the relationship benefits.
Infinity Law Group offers experience and compassion for family law matters arising in Massachusetts. We can assess your case and see if child custody mediation is right for you. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.