Custody disputes can be difficult and emotional. Deciding how to divide time between you and your co-parent is often complex and brings many challenges.
If you have never been through the custody process in North Carolina, it is natural to feel confused, anxious or overwhelmed. You need advice and guidance each step of the way.
The custody process begins with one parent filing a custody petition. When the other parent is served with the petition, they will be given a period to respond.
Mediation is required without a waiver
After this, a custody mediation is scheduled. Mediation is required, although it can be waived under certain circumstances, such as if your case involves abuse or substance addiction or if one parent lives more than 50 miles away.
Without a waiver, you must attend custody mediation. The purpose of mediation is to see if you and your co-parent can come to your own agreement on custody without having to go to court.
The role of a mediator
Mediation is a private meeting between you, your co-parent and a mediator. The mediator is not like a judge. They do not make decisions for you, or advocate for one side over the other.
A mediator listens to you and your co-parent explain your sides and may provide guidance toward a resolution.
Legal and physical custody
At your mediation, you and your co-parent will make decisions on legal and physical custody. Legal custody involves who makes decisions for your children on major issues, such as education, health or religion.
Legal custody is commonly shared between both parents. This means each of you has an equal right to make the decisions, and one of you cannot make a major decision without the other’s agreement.
Physical custody is who your children live with and when. Your physical custody schedule should consider all times of the year, including summers and holidays.
How to act at your mediation
A custody mediation is not the time to badmouth the other parent or tell them everything that they did wrong throughout your relationship. It is not a time to criticize their parenting skills.
Rather, a custody mediation is a time for open, honest and respectful communication about how the two of you are going to co-parent. North Carolina law decides custody using a “best interests of the child” standard, so you should keep this standard in mind at your mediation.
Attend your custody mediation with a willingness to compromise and be flexible. Even if you leave without your best-case result, it is a result you and your co-parent chose yourselves, rather than leaving it up to a judge.
How long does mediation last?
A custody mediation typically lasts between 1 to 2 hours. Realistically, if you cannot come to an agreement within that time, you are not likely to.
However, you can request a second mediation if you run out of time. Some parents simply need a little more time to think things through before further discussion.
Every custody case is different. Talking with a custody attorney about your situation before you attend mediation can increase your chance of a successful resolution.