In most child custody and visitation disputes in North Carolina, the court will require the parents to go through mediation. Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method that has proven to be a more peaceful and cost-effective way for parents to resolve child custody matters. Due to the high number of successful mediation settlements, only a small number of North Carolina child custody disputes are litigated in court.
If you have any questions about court-ordered mediation, talk to your experienced North Carolina family law attorney about the process and your options.
What is Mediation?
Under North Carolina General Statute 50-13.1, all cases involving contested custody and visitation issues of minor children will be sent to the Custody Mediation and Visitation Program, unless the court waives mediation.
Mediation involves having a third party “mediator” present to facilitate identifying the issues and coming up with a solution. The mediator does not decide the dispute but guides the process and provides a way for families to address their parenting conflicts.
Mediation can save time, money, and the stress of a child custody trial if they reach a parenting agreement without having to go to court. If the parties come to a mutual agreement, the family court judge can review the agreement and may incorporate it into a court order.
Participation in mediation involves an orientation class to prepare you for mediation, and at least one mediation session. Mediation can be completed in a couple of hours or it may require multiple mediation sessions. The courts generally provide custody mediation free of charge for parents.
The goals of custody mediation include the following.
- Reduce any acrimony that exists between the parties to a dispute involving custody or visitation of a minor child.
- Development of custody and visitation agreements that are in the child's best interest.
- Provide the parties with informed choices and, where possible, to give the parties the responsibility for making decisions about child custody and visitation.
- Provide a structured, confidential, nonadversarial setting that will facilitate the cooperative resolution of custody and visitation disputes and minimize the stress and anxiety to which the parties, and especially the child, are subjected.
- Reduce the relitigation of custody and visitation disputes.
Mediation is not always successful. If the parties go through mediation and cannot come to an agreement, then the case may go before the courts. Your attorney may help you negotiate a resolution before the dispute goes to trial. However, if the parents cannot decide on a parenting agreement, a judge may decide custody, visitation, and other parenting issues.
Confidentiality of Mediation
Another benefit of mediation is that it is private and confidential. A court hearing is generally part of the public record but all verbal and written communications with the parties during mediation are generally privileged and inadmissible in court. If mediation does not work out, the other party cannot generally use any statements you made in mediation against you in court.
Opting Out of Mediation
While mediation can be beneficial in parenting disputes, it is not always the right option. Either party can file a motion to waive mandatory mediation. The court can waive mediation for good cause, which may include:
- A showing of undue hardship to a party;
- A party residing more than 50 miles from the court;
- An agreement between the parties for voluntary mediation, subject to court approval;
- Allegations of abuse or neglect of the minor child;
- Allegations of alcoholism, drug abuse, or domestic violence between the parents in common; or
- Allegations of severe psychological, psychiatric, or emotional problems.
Talk to Your Lawyer About Mediation
It is generally up to the parties involved whether they want to go through mediation with their attorney present. Generally, attorneys do not attend mediation sessions through the North Carolina Custody Mediation Program. However, if the parties seek out private mediation, they may be able to have their attorneys present during mediation.
Even if you do not have your lawyer present during mediation, it may be a good idea to talk to your lawyer before signing any agreement. It is recommended that anyone with a child custody or visitation case consult an attorney to learn about their legal rights and obligations, and to review the draft of the Parenting Agreement. Your lawyer can review any agreement after mediation to make sure you understand the consequences of the agreement and have reviewed your options.
Family Law Attorneys in Shelby, North Carolina
If you have any questions about child custody mediation in North Carolina, contact the Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC in Shelby. Contact us online or by phone at 704-470-2440 today for a consultation.