Child Custody Mediation with a Mental Health Professional

A close-up of a legal document titled, "custody evaluation."Caveat: Because court jurisdictions vary, the information included here is based on Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find out about the rules in your jurisdiction by contacting an attorney or asking the public information office available through the courts.

When divorcing, you have a number of options to choose from: You may decide to work with an individual attorney, choose the Collaborative Divorce model, or meet with a mediator. You may also choose to meet with a mediator or an attorney/Mental Health Professional (MHP) mediation team. You also have the option to sit down together and make all your decisions at either the metaphorical or actual kitchen table, not using attorneys or mediators. In the counties mentioned above, you can engage in either a recommending or a non-recommending mediation if you work with a private mediator. If you work with the mediators at Family Court Services, you will be working with a recommending mediator.

When you choose to work with a custody mediator, he/she can help you determine the shape your family will take when all the dust settles. You will be determining the parenting plan for your children, including when they are with each parent. You may want to discuss if the children will move between the residences of each parent or if the parents will move in and out of the residence that the children live in. A mediator can help you think through the pros and cons in making any of the decisions facing you.

The primary role of the mediator is to help you make important decisions regarding your children. This is true whether or not it is a recommending mediation. If you are engaged in a recommending mediation, should you and your ex-partner not come to an agreement regarding your children, the mediator will make a recommendation to the court as to what would be in the best interests of your child(ren). Most MHP mediators are well-versed in child development and can talk with you about what is most common for the age of your child. You, however, are the experts for your particular child. The combination of the two is very helpful in determining how to move forward.

Some things to know about mediation:

1. Mediation can be less expensive than other divorce options. It is very appropriate for parents who are interested in doing what is best for their child. Where domestic violence or child abuse are in question, it is often not the best option.

2. Mediation is useful for parents who are not looking to place blame or get revenge on the other party. It provides an environment to discuss difficult issues where some amount of disagreement exists with a neutral party who can help smooth over rough feelings and provide a focus for the conversation. Making these decisions comes at a time when both parents are likely at their most vulnerable.

3. At times, a mediator might elect to talk with other professionals about you or your children. This may only be done with your written permission. The mediator might wish to speak with collaterals such as, teachers, therapists, evaluators, etc. to assist in having the discussion about your child(ren).

4. Because emotions are often frayed, the mediator might meet with each party separately for one or more sessions. These meetings are not confidential as regards the other party. Sometimes it is helpful to air a concern without having the other party present. It does not become a secret, however. The mediator can divulge the information to the other party as he/she sees fit to help reach an appropriate outcome for the child(ren).

5. Mediation is not psychotherapy, even if the person providing the mediation service is a licensed MHP. The mediator brings his/her expertise in psychology, such as child development to the mediation, but is not providing psychological services.

6. When the mediation is completed, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is drafted by the mediator and sent to each party and their attorneys, if they are using attorneys. This can then be incorporated into the larger Marriage Settlement Agreement (MSA) and become an order of the court along with the other decisions (financial, etc) you have made regarding your divorce.

7. In addition to the custody schedule and holiday/vacation schedule, you may also include such decisions as education, religion, sports, medical, etc. The mediator you work with can help you choose the details you wish to have in your MOU.

This is a rough overview of the options available to you and more specifics of what occurs when you choose mediation as your path.

© Copyright 2010 by Shendl Tuchman, PsyD, therapist in San Ramon, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • SuperName!!!

    SuperName!!!

    August 4th, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Whatever the reason for divorce, it is only imperative that both the parties think of the common good of the children and act accordingly. Okay,so they may not be able to put up with each other under the same roof but at least they need to think of their children and make some adjustments and not be too adamant about the custody and visits by the other parent. They need to be thinking of the child’s welfare first and foremost.

  • Sandra

    Sandra

    August 5th, 2010 at 4:38 AM

    Without a mediator for me and my kids while going thru a divorce I don’t know where I would be right now, probably in an insane asylum. This was someone who I felt worked failry with both me and my ex husband to work out a deal that was good for the whole family. And it was nice to have an outsider helping us come to terms with the agreement because it never felt like someone was unfairly taking sides, one against the other. In my own experience I think that everyone going thru a divorce who has kids should use a mediator because it just made the process so much easier for all of us. You felt like the game was being played fairly and that no one was gonna get somehting over on you. Just an extra person helping to look out for the interests of you and your kids.

  • Shendl Tuchman

    Shendl Tuchman

    August 16th, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    Thank you both for your comments. Children do need to have the attention of their parents at a time when the parents are having a difficult time emotionally. Sandra, I am glad to hear you had such a positive experience working with a mediator. I believe it is a useful choice to have when going to court seems the only way to settle differences.

  • Sean Allan

    Sean Allan

    April 15th, 2017 at 4:43 AM

    Hey there, I am really happy to know about you, It can be useful for so many people who face the problems regarding child custody. Thank you so much for this post.

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