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Can child custody and visitation be settled via mediation?

California couples who are divorcing will be in dispute about many issues. Two of the most complex and emotionally charged are child custody and visitation plans. For many, this is not a situation in which they can come to an agreement no matter how hard they try. But there are cases where the differences are negotiable. When getting beyond the initial hard feelings about a parting of the ways and how the children will be situated, couples might find there is not a vast chasm between their positions. It is then that a mediator can help with family law negotiation.

The parenting plan details how the division of responsibilities will be allocated with the children. This can take many forms with one parent having the child during the week with the other parent having the child on weekends; alternating of holidays; agreeing on how the child will be transported to school; extracurricular activities and more. A benefit of mediation is it lets parents formulate a parenting plan on their own without it being mandated by the court. This can give them the feeling that they are taking part in the case and agreeing rather than being told how the child custody and visitation plans will be organized. When the parents have agreed on a reasonable plan, the likelihood is that the judge will grant it being put into action.

Mediation is not mandatory and there is no need to agree to a mediator's suggestions. It is, however, a beneficial way to try to come to a consensus. Should the negotiation fall short or the gap between the parents be too extensive, it can still go to court for the judge to decide. Alternative dispute resolution is useful in resolving disagreements. With it, parents can meet and confer without going to court; there can be a settlement conference where the parties will meet with the judge, an evaluator and others to consider settlement options; private mediation can formulate solutions; and the collaborative law process can be useful with the parents each hiring a lawyer to discuss their case without court.

Going through with an extensive legal case to settle a dispute over child custody and visitation plans can be costly, time-consuming and damaging to the relationships. Rather than take a relatively amicable or reasonably cordial case to court to highlight the reasons why the union failed and likely make matters worse, legal help through divorce alternative dispute resolution can be useful to settle the matter before it escalates. Calling a law firm experienced in these issues is the first step.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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