Let’s face it, sometimes things just don’t work out between two people. It isn’t what anyone envisions and now you are stuck trying to do what is best for you and your children. So what do you do? People often think that divorce and custody issues must be battled out in court. However, court is not the only option. There is an alternative and it’s called mediation.
Mediation is a part of the alternative dispute resolution process. Simply put, mediation is a practice by which both parties sit down with an unbiased third party to reach an agreement. There are no sides in mediation; the goal is to develop the best possible parenting plan. Choosing mediation over litigation is not only financially smart, it ensures you are in control of the outcome.
Many divorce attorneys require a large retainer fee upfront and charge by the hour once the retainer is used. This retainer is in addition to any trial cost, often leaving clients in thousands of dollars of debt. The court takes time to review divorce and custody cases and must review contested cases at length. In contrast, mediators often work over the course of only a few meetings before developing a plan with their clients. Mediated cases have a much lower financial impact on families because they are not being litigated.
Making an agreement beforehand and bringing it to the court for the final judgment, can save parents the headache of long, drawn out court battles. This is especially important in the military community when switching duty stations and facing impending deployments. Mediated cases have a much faster return as both parties have agreed to the terms and they do not need to dispute them in court.
Once the court has made a decision on a case, it is difficult to change or reverse it without going back to trial. Mediation gives you the flexibility for change. This means that you get to plan out your schedule, you get to choose when and where things will happen, and you have the comfort of knowing that the agreement is mutual and balanced.
Mediation allows room to co-parent where trial often fosters hostility. The importance of co-parenting is paramount to achieving a healthy relationship between both homes. Several couples can make their first steps toward this by agreeing to mediate. During the course of a mediated session one of the main concerns facing parents is how to address the day to day lifestyles of their children. A new school year can present challenges that may be worked through with the help of a mediator.
These back to school tasks and new routines can be hammered out in a MOU format.
What is an MOU? It’s a memorandum of understanding between co-parents that can help solidify a schedule for the school year. These agreements can be submitted for the original final judgement or to update the current court order. Many MOUs can be tailored year by year to accommodate changes for the needs of children. As children grow and their interests evolve, they may require a different set of rules, obligatory commitments and agendas.
Different schedules at dad’s house and at mom’s house can become confusing. Often clients debate, time, energy, commuting, etc. A few clear and specific rules should be applied when creating a school based agreement. One should consider the school, transportation, its calendar of events, extra curricular commitments, and personal flexibility.
Some questions that you may ponder for your agreement: Are you homeschooling? Is it private school? How will you split tuition? Is the school online? Will your child need a computer or e-books? Do you work from home? Are you able to leave on early release days? Do you have an after-school care plan?
Special consideration should be given to school-related activities. When and where will you meet for pick up and drop off? When committing to activities, who pays for what? Can costs be split? Can a third party help get the kids to and from if both parents work?
These are all concerns that can be approached in mediation helping to formulate a detailed plan, to help resolve any issues.
Where can you find a local mediator? Most courts offer mediation at a low cost to families. If you contact your local courthouse, they should provide you a list of court registered mediators for your county. Additionally, some community-based, alternative dispute resolution groups, offer mediation based on income. Mediation is much more efficient route than litigation. Support Co-Parenting. Mediate Don’t Litigate!
Laura Russoniello is a divorce and custody mediator, www.milfams.com.
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