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Child Custody and Mediation and What You Should Know

By: S Dean Michaux, JD

If you plan to file a child custody action in North Carolina, you will be required to participate in a Custody Mediation Program. Each district in North Carolina has specific operational procedures laid out in their local rules, and the rules for each county can be viewed online at www.NCcourts.gov.

The North Carolina Child Custody and Mediation Program was established in 1989 by the North Carolina General Assembly with N.C. Gen. Stat. §7A-494 and § 50-13.1. It offers families the chance to resolve custody disputes and avoid the stress and anxiety of court. The North Carolina courts have put together a booklet on the Child Custody and Visitation Mediation Program that can be accessed here.

Parents entering a child custody action should remember that while they may no longer be a couple, they will always be a parent to their children. For couples experiencing a contentious divorce, mediation often provides an avenue to open discussion and helps the parties make better decisions that impact their children in the future. Many judges in the Piedmont Triad area have begun to require parties to work out as many issues on child custody as possible before trial. Judges feel that parents generally know what is best for their children, more so than a judge who has never met the parents or children outside the courtroom.

When couples are having issues communicating during a divorce and custody dispute, working through issues of child custody through mediation can be beneficial. Parents generally want only what is best for their children and are often more open to compromise with the help of a mediator who has listened to the wants and needs of both parties. Some mediators request that the parties prepare their “vision” of what they would like to see in a co-parenting agreement. Having each party’s initial goals regarding custody provides the mediator with a starting point for each side. This starting point can identify areas that the parties agree on before the first meeting. Parties may be closer together than they think about what is best for their children because communication has broken down between the parties.

The ideal goal going into custody mediation is to reach a result that is in the best interest of the children. Parents should recognize that, even when they cannot salvage a marriage, the health and wellness of their children should be the paramount issue. Parties should attempt to reach agreements by focusing on the needs of the children and not on the hurt that their spouse has caused or on trying to hurt the other parent. Parents should enter mediation with an open mind and try to be fair with each other, have patience, and be willing to negotiate with the mediator.

Mediators can help reduce stress and anger between the parties by listening to the parties when the parties will not listen to each other.