Mediation is fast becoming a popular alternative for divorcing couples. Mediation offers a supportive, cooperative environment that promotes direct, clear communication between the two parties. But whether you decide on mediation for your entire divorce process or not, mediating the parenting plan is still often a good option.
During a divorce, attorneys do not always devote a lot of time to the parenting plan. Often, they take a cookie cutter approach, implementing a standard plan regardless of the circumstances. The challenge is that in today’s society,
there are increasingly complex family dynamics that should be taken into account. And what is important to one family may not always be important to another.
Mediation provides the opportunity to craft a plan that is customized around the unique needs of the individuals involved. By focusing on communicating values — sharing what actually matters most in both directions — mediation allows the plan to maximize its value to both parents.
Here is a quick overview of the process:
1. Agree That Mediation is Right for You
The first question is, “can mediation be a benefit to you in this circumstance?” If your relationship with your ex is embittered or estranged enough that they will act out of spite or with no concern for your needs, mediation may not be your best option. For mediation to be effective there must be a commitment and willingness on the part of both sides to work together toward a mutually agreeable solution.
2. Document the Essentials
A mediated parenting plan is an organic document that can evolve over time based on the needs and values of each parent, but is founded in the hard-line details of each parent’s specific circumstances. Mediation is the time to get those details out on paper.
Your work schedule, the ‘routine’ you have had with your child, any special health needs of any person involved, the distance and time required to travel from one parent’s house to the other, the child’s resistance to change, and any other information that is relevant should be factored into the plan. In particular, this includes details about the child such as developmental, psychological, social, and emotional factors that must be adapted to, and the skills each parent has at handling the child’s specific behaviors.
3. State Goals that are Feasible and Enforceable
Each parent’s goals for the plan should be written down, but must be written in a way that is both realistic and legally enforceable. Goals such as “Dad will quit smoking” are not necessarily realistic because quitting smoking is notoriously difficult. Similarly, goals like “Parents agree not to insult each other in front of Junior” are not enforceable by court order. Stick to the issues that can be legally resolved with the agreement you are creating. An experienced Professional Mediator will guide the couple through the process offering support, advice and alternative solutions when needed.
4. Build the Core of the Parenting Plan
The parents sit down with a Professional Mediator and hash out an agreeable plan for…
How custody is split (anything from ‘one parent retains sole custody’ to ‘each parent retains joint legal and/or physical custody).
The specific schedule that spells out the custodial arrangement for the coming years.
Any special conditions or unique clauses both parents agree should be included in the agreement. For example, “Each parent agrees to call or send a text to the other detailing any injuries their children receives.”
5. Create the Agreement
Through working with an experienced Professional Mediator divorcing couples will be able to truly work out a plan that not only takes care of the needs of their children but one that they have collaborated on which will reduce conflict for years to come.
Once the plan is agreed upon, the agreement is drafted in clear, child-centered language. Once the plan is reviewed and both parents sign it, the plan becomes part of the final legal divorce agreement.
I often tell my clients that although you will not be husband and wife anymore, you will always be the parents of you children and will have to work with one another for their benefit. It’s much better to agree together on how to create a parenting plan.