Are you contemplating divorce and have children? Then, our second installment on divorce settlement should be important to you. Custody and parenting time mediation is the first step in the process. Some consider it the most significant one.
According to New Jersey court rules, a judge may order mediation when there are concerns about either custody or parenting time or both. However, some cases are exempt from this type of mediation. These would include matters where Child Protection and Permanency, CP&P (formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services, DYFS) is investigating a family. Or, when the parties have restraining orders against them for domestic violence.
How Custody and Parenting Time Mediation Works
Unfortunately, children are too often the victims of divorce. Some parents actually see them as pawns against their soon to be former spouse. That’s not to say that’s the norm. A large group of divorcing couples actually stay together as long as possible “for the sake of the children.”
The best interests of the children are paramount in every divorce case. It’s not just because it’s what the parents should use as their benchmark. The court is mandated to do so.
The judge does not have the time to get to know you or your family. Although there are experts specializing in custody and parenting time, it is not always necessary to employ an outsider to review your circumstances. The advantage of mediation is that you have input on what you think will be in the best interests of your children. You should be aware that this will involve your ability to compromise.
You can find many answers to your questions regarding the mediation process as provided by the court. An independent third party, known as a mediator, will sit down with you and the other parent to help facilitate your discussion. Other relatives may be called in if deemed appropriate.
Before the meeting, both parents are required to partake in a Parents Education Program or workshop. This gives the parties a chance to learn about the mediation process. There is a focus on how custody and parenting time disputes impact children. The goal is to help parents understand their role in doing what’s best for their children.
The mediator is not there to make a judgment. His or her role is to assist you in listening to each other and come up with an agreement regarding custody and parenting time. Again, this will be the first step in negotiating a divorce settlement.
Generally speaking, family mediation sessions last from one to three hours. It is advisable to walk in with an open mind. This isn’t the forum for discussing financial assets. The meeting is your opportunity to be involved in the decision regarding how you and the other parent will share time with your children. An experienced family law attorney can guide you through the process and will attend the mediation session with you.
If an agreement is reached considering custody and parenting time, the mediator will prepare a memorandum of understanding or consent order. This will be signed by both parties and the mediator. Ultimately, the judge will sign the order, and it will become a settled part of your divorce case. You will be legally bound by the court order.
Custody and parenting time issues that are not agreed upon in mediation would be referred back to the judge if the court ordered the mediation. Otherwise, the case may be transferred for investigation by the Family Court’s Assessment Unit.
Again, the advantage of reaching an agreement in Custody and Parenting Time Mediation is that the outcome is determined by the parties. Not everyone is happy when the decision is left up to the judge.
Have questions concerning custody and parenting time disputes? At the Law Offices of Sam Stoia, we can help you understand how the court addresses these issues. Contact us to set up a complimentary meeting regarding your concerns.