When parents or guardians become involved in a custody dispute, a child custody mediator serves as a neutral third party to help the family reach an agreement. Often, child custody mediation is court-ordered, but some families choose to pursue custody mediation on their own in order to reduce legal fees and time-consuming, adversarial court proceedings. Child custody mediators most frequently work with divorcing couples, but they may also help unmarried parents, grandparents, adoptive families, and temporary guardians resolve custody disputes.
The primary goal of a child custody mediator is to reach a guardianship, visitation, or custody agreement in a non-adversarial setting. A child custody mediator will give each party an opportunity to talk about needs and to ask questions regarding child custody laws. After listening to each party's side, the child custody mediator will provide suggestions on how to reach a compromise that is mutually agreeable and in compliance with state laws. Above all, the custody mediator will seek out an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. This includes making sure that the child's physical, emotional, and educational needs are met at all times.
Although parents and guardians may bring their attorney to their mediation session, it is not necessary since child custody mediators are trained in all areas of family law, including divorce, visitation, adoption, and child support. At the end of the mediation session, the child custody mediator will prepare a written outline of the verbal agreement that the family reaches during mediation. If the parties cannot come to a mutually agreeable custody arrangement, the mediator may offer his or her own suggestions on what type of visitation and custody schedule would best meet the needs of the child. In Alaska, California, Delaware, Michigan, New Mexico, and South Dakota, the child custody mediator may make an independent recommendation to the family court if the family cannot reach a voluntary agreement.
Many child custody mediators are licensed attorneys, but the specific licensing requirements for working as a child custody mediator are governed by state law and vary by location. In every state in the United States (US), child custody mediators must complete classroom training and work under the supervision of an experienced mediator before he or she may work independently with clients. The mediator-in-training must also pass a criminal background check and provide the state's board of bar examiners with character references before practicing professionally as a child custody mediator. In addition to making recommendations on custody and visitation arrangements, child custody mediators may refer clients to family counselors, child psychologists and community services, such as public housing programs and reduced-price clinics.