Most likely. Under North Carolina law, people who are involved in a child custody dispute, including one related to divorce, are required to attempt court-sponsored mediation before going before a judge. The only situations where mediation may not be required include:
- One party lives over 100 miles from the court
- One party has abused or neglected the children involved in the case
- One party suffers from alcoholism, abuses drugs or abuses the other party
- One party suffers from severe psychological, psychiatric or emotional problems
You can also skip court-sponsored mediation if you agree to go to private mediation, with the court’s approval.
What can I expect from mediation?
Mediation is a form of alternate (non-court) dispute resolution. It involves sitting down with a neutral third party (the mediator) and discussing how you would like to resolve your divorce or child custody issues.
The mediator is a trained professional whose job it is to help you communicate effectively while you come up with your own resolution to the issues. Except in private mediation, the mediator is paid by the court — and the mediation is free to you.
The mediator will not decide who is right or wrong. The mediator’s job is not to rule on your case but to help you and your child’s other parent come to an agreement you both can live with.
In custody cases, the agreement should cover legal and physical custody, which basically means:
- Where the children will live
- The division of parenting time (e.g. weekends, mid-week visits, holidays, summer vacation and school breaks)
- Who will have the right to make major decisions in the child’s life
It is important to understand that child support will not be decided as part of the mediation but according to North Carolina’s Child Support Guidelines based on the specifics of your custody schedule as well as the income of both parties.
Once you have come up with a resolution of the issues, you will write it up into a contract called a parenting agreement. If your case only involves child custody, a judge will sign your parenting agreement and it becomes a court order.
What are the benefits of mediation?
There can be many. For one thing, mediation is usually faster and less expensive than a court hearing would be. It is often less stressful than going to court, as well, and it can save you and any witnesses time and effort that would otherwise be needed for court.
Mediation is confidential, meaning that the things you reveal during the mediation process are not admissible in court later. It is also more private than a court trial.
Mediation is more flexible than court, and you can agree to a wide range of possibilities. In court, the judge only has the option of choosing one side’s argument over the other side. In mediation, you can come up with a parenting plan that truly meets your needs and the needs of your children.
The process creates buy-in by both parties, meaning that they are more likely to keep to the agreement later.
What if it doesn’t work?
You are only required to try mediation. If you and your child’s other parent cannot come to an agreement, you can still go to court for a judge to determine the terms of your custody order. Since mediation is confidential, the positions you reveal during the mediation are not locked in when you go to court.
You can and should discuss your situation and goals with your attorney before going to mediation. Your lawyer can advise you but will not be present during the mediation process.