Child custody matters are never easy to navigate. Even under the best of circumstances, deciding on issues like child custody, support, and visitation, can be highly triggering and contentious. It can be extremely nerve-racking to have a judge determine how much money you owe each month to support your child, particularly if you are already doing everything that you can to do so. However, there may be other ways to determine child custody payments that allow you and your co-parent to retain the decision making authority and avoid stepping foot in a courtroom at all. One of these methods is mediation, which we will discuss more below.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a process that allows parties to amicably resolve legal disputes outside of court. The process is guided by a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator is trained in conflict-resolution and will not pick sides throughout the process, instead helping to guide both parties toward a mutually agreeable solution. Once an agreement is reached, it can be reviewed by both parties’ lawyers and then submitted to the court for approval.
Who serves as a mediator for child support mediations?
A mediator is a neutral third-party trained in conflict resolution. They may be a lawyer, retired judge, social worker, or have another background that qualifies them for this sort of role. You can research the qualifications of different mediators to find one who you feel is a good fit for your needs and goals. It is important to remember that a mediator is not the same as a judge. The mediator does not make a decision for the parties that is binding, rather, the mediator helps the parties make a decision for themselves.
Can I use mediation for child support?
Yes. Mediation is an excellent alternative to going to court to determine child support matters. Mediation can allow co-parents to work through a lot of highly contentious issues in a productive and collaborative manner. This process can also allow them to develop communication and problem-solving skills that will be beneficial to their co-parenting relationship as they continue to raise their shared child or children. Using a mediator and keeping child support matters out of court is also often in the best interest of the child.
How does child support mediation work?
Unlike a court hearing which can take several months, mediation for child support can often be resolved in a number of two-hour sessions. In these sessions, the mediator will clearly outline the decisions that need to be made, and will then guide the parties in working toward mutually amicable solutions. Once the couple has reached a decision on what they believe a fair amount of child support would be, the mediator will draft an agreement on child support. Both parties can have their attorneys review this agreement. If everyone again agrees to the terms, the mediator can submit the child support agreement to the court for approval. The court will approve the agreement provided that it finds it to be in the best interest of the child. In the event that the couple is unable to reach a decision through mediation, the matter will be handled in court just as it would have if mediation had not been attempted.
Are there situations where child support mediation is not advisable?
Mediation is advisable, productive, and successful for the vast majority of parents. However, there are situations where it is not a good fit. If either parent has a history of domestic abuse or of fraud or lying about finances, child support matters should be litigated in court to avoid issues with imbalance of power and misrepresenting critical information, such as ones’ finances. It is not necessary that both parties be 100% on board with mediation in order to try it, but rather that they are both open to trying it. However, if they have a history of abuse or extreme dishonesty, court is a better route as there are more protocols to protect against such pitfalls in place.
What happens if my co-parent and I cannot agree on child support through mediation?
If the parties are unable to reach a mutually agreeable decision as to child support through mediation, it is okay. Any progress that the parties have made in mediation can be brought with them to court, where any remaining issues will be litigated, just as they would have been if mediation had not been attempted. In this sense, there is really no harm in trying, and there may even be benefits when it fails, because any issues that you were able to resolve through mediation will now not have to be litigated, which saves time and money once you do go to court.
What are the benefits of child support mediation?
There are a number of benefits of child support mediation. First, it is faster and less expensive than going to court. Whereas litigation for child custody and support matters can take months or even years going through the court system, these matters may be able to be resolved in just a handful of mediation sessions. Additionally, people who partake in mediation report that it is far better for their mental health than a courtroom proceeding. Mediation also allows the parties to retain the most control over the outcome as compared to handing that power over exclusively to a judge. Further, everything that happens in court becomes a matter of public record, which may prove damaging to the children it involves. Mediation is private and nothing discussed or disclosed in mediations becomes a matter of public record.
Are there drawbacks to using mediation for child support?
The good thing about using mediation to determine child support payments is that there is not a downside. Even in the event that the mediation proves unsuccessful in procuring an outcome, the parties still have not lost anything. Mediation can be attempted at any point in the legal process, and if it does not help, the legal proceedings will simply continue on as they would have anyway.
Do I need a lawyer for child support mediation?
Generally, parties are not represented by a lawyer in the actual mediation negotiations, although that is an option. It is more common for each party to retain a lawyer to consult with throughout the mediation process. It is also important for both parties to have their own lawyer to review the draft of the child support agreement that they agree to before it is submitted to the court for approval.
Is child support mediation binding?
One of the best things about mediation is that it is not binding. Even if both parties agree on an amount of child support, they can still bring the draft agreement to a lawyer to review, and can change their minds at any point before it is submitted to the court for approval. Any decision reached through mediation is just an option. It is not binding, and either party has the right to consult with an attorney or change their mind and decide to let the court decide.
Contact Asa Pitt Mediation in Los Angeles, California
If you want a more collaborative and healthy approach to determining child support payments that does not require stepping foot in a courtroom and keeps your private matters private, contact Asa Pitt Mediation to schedule a consultation today.