A sample mediation session addressing custody concerns

In my previous article, I introduced Bill and Angela, who had decided to get a divorce. Angela called and learned more about mediation, and shared the information with Bill. After further discussion, they decided (Bill, a little reluctantly) to schedule a consultation, at which they got a sense of who the mediator is, and had more of their questions answered. Here, I continue with their first working mediation session.

Note that while this first session deals with parenting matters, the session could focus on different issues. For instance, let’s say that the mediator had learned during Angela’s initial phone call or at the consultation (see previous article) that there is a pressing financial concern. For example, if one spouse said that he didn’t have enough money to get through the next week or month, the first session would probably address that issue, rather than parenting.

Dec. 6 — Session 1

The mediator asks about the parties, their children, and the Thanksgiving holiday.

With the spouses’ permission, the mediator then turns the discussion to parenting issues.

Angela says that she wants full custody. Bill becomes defensive. They argue for a few minutes. The mediator listens and considers whether the verbal exchange is constructive, and then raises a question.

The mediator asks Bill and Angela, “What do you mean when you say ‘custody?’ ”

The mediator listens to each person and checks that he understands what each has said. The mediator then suggests that maybe the question isn’t “Which of you will have custody?” but rather, “What agreements can you reach so that you can be the kind of parents you want to be to your children?”

There is further discussion, some of it angry. The mediator helps the spouses to fully express their concerns, and asks clarifying questions.

The mediator believes that, though Bill is having difficulty listening to Angela directly, he is hearing her indirectly, through the mediator’s restatements of what she is saying.

The focus is forward looking. Each parent acknowledges that the other has an important role to play in the children’s lives; neither wants to “take” the children from the other. With his fear of losing the children alleviated, Bill especially becomes less tense, and the conversation is less strained.

Bill and Angela agree to talk about parenting arrangements; at least for now, they are willing to leave the legal designations (custody) aside.

Angela and Bill talk about the children: where they attend school, what they enjoy doing, their usual routines, and so forth.

The mediator helps them to set out different possible parenting plans, which are discussed.

They talk about Christmas and New Year’s, which are coming up, and which they have agreed on.

The parents reach a tentative agreement on a schedule for the children, as well as on how decisions involving medical, educational, and religious matters will be handled in the future. (The latter comes easily for them.)

The mediator gives each spouse a blank form for setting out financial information. Angela and Bill are both confident that they can fill in the information about their respective incomes and expenses within a week to two weeks. Both want to have another session before the Christmas holiday. If either needs more time to complete the income or expense parts of the form, they will let each other and the mediator know, so that the date of the next session can be rescheduled.

The session ends after two hours, and Bill and Angela each pay $300 of the $600 fee.

Next time: Income and expenses

New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to http://lc-mediate.com/. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lchabin.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.