Quick Info: How Do I Prepare for a Child Custody Mediation?
It is important to review Florida custody law and have an idea of possible outcomes at trial. Formulate a worst-case and a best-case scenario that can happen if your case goes to trial. This gives you a framework for negotiating. Also, make sure you go online, find a parenting plan template, fill it out, and bring it. That gives you an ideal road map for the things that are important to you.
Types of Child Custody in Florida
As though a divorce is not emotional enough, when children are involved, it can become even more fraught with tension and pressure. Many parents are guilty of losing sight of what is best for their children due to their own levels of stress. Although you would never deliberately do anything to harm your children, they may inadvertently become pawns in the divorce, especially when child custody issues become heated.
During the time between when a couple decides to divorce and the divorce decree is final, the courts will generally put a temporary child custody arrangement into place. If both parties are able to reach a mutually acceptable agreement, the court will not intervene. However, if the parents are in disagreement, the court will make a temporary ruling. Keep in mind that the temporary custody arrangements are not necessarily what the final custody order will be.
** In Florida custody agreements are referred to as Parenting Plans. This article uses the word “custody” to express the issues in terms the average person understands.
Physical custody refers to the parent the child primarily lives with—the parent who has care, control, and maintenance of the child. One parent may have sole physical custody, meaning the children reside with them 100% of the time, with the non-custodial parent having specific visitation rights. Joint physical custody, also known as shared custody or shared parenting, is when the children live with one parent for part of the week or part of the year, and with the other parent the rest of the time, with a division of time which is roughly equal.
Some families handle this by allowing the children to live with one parent during the school week and the other parent on weekends and holidays. Finally, a relatively new type of physical custody is known as “bird’s nest custody,” in which the children live in one central location and the parents alternatively live with them. This type of arrangement allows the children to remain in one place, theoretically giving them a greater sense of security.
Legal custody refers to the parent who makes educational, medical, disciplinary, and religious decisions and has nothing to do with physical custody. Sole legal custody allows one parent to make all these types of major decisions for the children, and sole legal custody usually (but not always) goes along with sole physical custody. Joint legal custody splits the decision-making process between the two parents. Many parents share joint legal custody without having joint physical custody.
Purpose of a Custody Agreement
The custody agreement is intended to allow parents to reach an understanding as to how their children will be raised and cared for on a day-to-day basis. Parents who are engaged in joint custody or sole custody with visitation rights must learn to be flexible and keep their personal feelings out of the way. Both parents should find a way to encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent. Although you may be embroiled in turmoil with an ex-spouse, try to keep your children out of your emotional issues. If you are headed into a heated custody battle with both arms swinging, stop and think about it.
Before you have reached the point when you have turned the decisions related to your children over to a judge, think about the consequences for the children and for you. Ask yourself why you are fighting for custody—is it because you truly believe the children’s best interests are served by being with you full time, or because you are simply fighting your ex-spouse because you have unresolved negative feelings about him or her? Is litigation in this matter going to hurt your children in the long run, and what will be the outcome when the court intervenes? Take care when dealing with custody issues, and listen carefully to the advice of your divorce attorney who has likely been through many such situations and can tell you what is best for your children.
Are 50/50 Child Custody Splits Realistic?
While many believe that a 50/50 split should be the logical presumption for custody, regardless of parental ability or the children’s needs, others are not in favor of an automatic split in custody. If custody should automatically start at an even split and only be adjusted based on a special circumstance such as abuse, then how will this affect your own custody battle, and is this, in fact, a realistic theory?
Advocates for the 50/50 Split
The advocates of the straight 50/50 split base their belief on the fact that parents are normally joint legal custodians of their children during the marriage, therefore, this should remain unchanged simply because the marriage crumbles. Others believe that it is a rare occurrence during a marriage when childcare duties are perfectly split down the middle. When you consider your own daily life, think about whether you work or your spouse works, or perhaps both of you work. Do either of you have unusual working hours? In most cases, there will be one parent who spends more time with the children and covers the bulk of the parenting tasks such as taking the children to and from school or extracurricular activities, helping with homework, putting them to bed, etc., although certainly not in all cases.
If one spouse has typically worked while the other stayed home with the children, then the stay-at-home parent will likely have a much better handle on parenting the children than the other. But how does the quality of time factor into the decision for custody? Many parents who work don’t get to spend a tremendous amount of time with their children however the time they do spend with them is quality time. Would it be fair to the children to take that quality time away? And, would a split down the middle be reflected in quality time, or would the parent who works end up having the children while they were at work, meaning they would have to arrange for child care?
Emotions in a Divorce
Divorce can leave both parents with many unresolved issues, and full of emotions such as anger, frustration, resentment, blame, and hurt. When two people who are feeling this range of emotions get together and attempt to come to a good custody decision regarding their children, the outcome can be less than positive.
Co-parenting in such highly charged situations becomes difficult and occasionally downright impossible. Aside from the emotions of the parents, children need a home in which they reside the majority of the time. They need to attend one school and have a continuing sense of normalcy, routine, and stability. Children thrive when their lives are stable and don’t do well when they reside in chaos.
How Child Custody Mediation Can Help
Child custody mediation is either set by the court when a parent files a request for child custody or is private mediation with a privately-paid mediator. If it appears that custody, visitation, or both are going to be contested, the court will set those contested issues for mediation. If you have been ordered to attend child custody mediation, you may wonder how to best prepare. It is important for you to know that you are under no obligation to come to an agreement during child custody mediation, and you should only agree if you believe the outcomes are in your children’s best interests. It is also important that you do your best to come to the table with an open mind, are willing to listen, and are both reasonable and flexible. This does not mean you are required to agree to something you absolutely do not want, only that you must enter into the child custody mediation as an active participant.
What if the Child’s Other Parent is Not Being Reasonable?
But what, you may ask, happens if the child’s other parent is not being reasonable, open-minded, or willing to listen? Perhaps he or she is using the children as leverage, and you are quite certain there is no real care about parenting time. Perhaps he or she simply wants to make the child custody process as difficult as possible for you. So, what do you do? Just remember that you do not have to worry about what the other parent thinks or how he or she is acting in order to prepare for mediation. Your only obligation is to be clear about what you believe is in your children’s best interests. While your attorney will prepare you for the child custody mediation, there is information that will be helpful to you during the mediation, such as:
- Be confident in what you want for your children.
- Be organized—fumbling through paperwork during the mediation can result in wasted opportunities to resolve parenting issues.
- Be honest and upfront with the mediator as far as the facts of the case.
- Do not argue with the mediator—try to keep from getting emotional or getting into an argument with your ex or the mediator.
- Present your case logically, with facts to back you up.
- If what the other parent is saying is not true, remain calm as you provide facts that show his or her statements are not true.
- Do your best to avoid disparaging the other parent, or resorting to personal attacks.
- Listen carefully to what the other parent says, rather than interrupting or reacting emotionally.
- Remain polite and professional.
- Consider creating a relationship timeline, which details all the facts about your relationship—when it began, when and why it ended, whether you have undergone counseling, etc. You are likely to be asked these questions, and if you have the answers down in writing, it can save time and arguments between you and your spouse about dates.
- In the same vein, prepare a parenting timeline that clearly explains what type of custody arrangement you have had with your spouse since you separated, as well as which parent primarily took care of the children during your marriage. A “personal” timeline could also be helpful, which includes your children’s extended family members, whether they live, and whether they are currently a part of the children’s lives (or were in the past).
- Be ready to answer questions regarding your own work history, educational history, drug and alcohol history, and current living situation.
- Consider preparing a sample parenting plan which demonstrates your flexibility, as well as how you will co-parent with the other parent.
- If you have concerns about the other parent’s parenting skills, have a list prepared. As an example, if your ex frequently drinks and drives, therefore you are worried about the safety of your children, tell the mediator this fact clearly and concisely. The mediator may ask you what the other parent could do to alleviate your concerns, so be prepared for this question.
- If you are asking for primary custody of your children, have a list of the reasons you think that solution is best for the children (not best for you, but rather in the children’s best interests).
- Have copies of all relevant records related to your child (medical, educational, etc.), on hand, should questions arise.
Essentially, you will meet with your mediator, identify all contested issues, discuss potential solutions, and reach a custody agreement which will then be drafted and signed. The complexity of your custody issues, as well as the willingness of both parents to reach an agreement, will determine the amount of time you will spend with the child custody mediator. Remember that your child custody mediation is not the venue to rehash old arguments between you and your ex about what went wrong in your marriage.
Your one and only focus should be to tailor a child custody agreement that will best serve your children. You should come prepared to make at least minor concessions, otherwise, your mediation will stall out before it even gets started. Your Ayo and Iken custody attorney can be an invaluable resource during child custody mediation, so take advantage of that.
Author’s Note from Attorney Howard Iken: The article discusses child custody issues in Florida and emphasizes the importance of creating a parenting plan or custody agreement to ensure that the children’s best interests are taken into account. It explains the types of custody arrangements, including physical and legal custody, and provides advice on how to prepare for child custody mediation. The article also explores the debate surrounding a 50/50 custody split and the emotional impact of divorce on parents and children. Finally, the article suggests ways to handle a situation where one parent is not being reasonable during custody negotiations.