Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution. Mediation is an alternative to having disputes determined by the courts, where the individuals in dispute are able to come up with their own solution. Family law courts find mediation is advantageous in most custody and visitation disputes where the parents involved can reach an agreement that works best for both people involved instead of an all-or-nothing outcome.
Individuals who have been referred to family court mediation should be aware of the mediation process before starting visitation and custody mediation. If you have any questions about custody and visitation mediation in Missouri, contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today.
Dispute Resolution in Missouri Family Courts
Mediation involves a 3rd party “mediator” who guides the parties through the process to come up with practical solutions to their disputes. The mediator is not like the judge who hears both sides and makes a decision. Instead, the decision-making is in the hands of the parties in the dispute. The mediator acts as a facilitator to guide the process and help the parties come up with their own solutions. Under Missouri court rules, the mediator has a duty to be impartial.
According to Missouri Supreme Court Rules 88.03, mediation is:
"The process by which a neutral mediator appointed by the court assists the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement as to issues of child custody and visitation. The role of the mediator is to assist the parties in identifying the issues, reducing misunderstanding, clarifying priorities, exploring areas of compromise, and finding points of agreement. An agreement reached by the parties is to be based on the decisions of the parties and not the decisions of the mediator. The agreement reached can resolve all or only some of the disputed issues."
Litigation can be a difficult process for disputes over child custody and visitation. It can be an adversarial and contentious process that does not reward compromise. Litigation can make the divorce and custody process more painful and harmful for children who are often caught in the middle.
In contrast to litigation, mediation allows parents to remain on better terms, working together to find common ground and compromise in the best interests of the child. Mediation also gives parents the tools to resolve any disputes that come up in the future without necessarily having to resort to the courts.
Mediation is not always successful. If the couple cannot resolve their disputes through mediation, the issue may go back before the court. A judge will generally hear from each party, review any evidence, and issue a decision through a court order. Violating the terms of the order may result in contempt of court, or other penalties, including criminal charges.
Opting Out of Mediation
Mediation can be beneficial for many couples in a custody or visitation dispute. However, in some situations, mediation may not be a good option. In cases involving custody or visitation issues, the court may order mediation but either party can opt-out of mediation for “good cause.” Good cause includes a finding of domestic violence or abuse by the court. If you have questions about court-ordered mediation with a history of domestic abuse, talk to your Missouri family law attorney about your options.
Custody and Visitation Mediation
Generally, in child custody and visitation disputes, the court will require the parties to use mediation as a tool to resolve their issues. In child custody and visitation issues, the court may, at any time, order the parties to participate in mediation.
The parties may jointly and voluntarily select any mediator qualified to undertake mediation. The court can provide a list of qualified child custody and visitation mediators. If the parties cannot jointly and voluntarily select a mediator and voluntarily participate in mediation, the court shall select a mediator from the court mediator panel and order the parties to participate.
All adult parties to any proceeding shall participate in a minimum of two (2) hours of mediation unless waived by court order upon a showing of good cause. A case subject to the mediation requirement may not be set for trial until the requirements of mediation have been satisfied.
Mediation is also a voluntary option for parents trying to resolve custody and visitation disputes. Parents do not need to wait for the court to order mediation. Individuals can voluntarily seek out an experienced mediator to help them come to a custody and parenting agreement. Talk to your Missouri family law attorney about what you need to know before going through mediation.
Confidentiality of Mediation
One of the benefits of mediation for divorcing parties is that the process is generally confidential. Court hearings are matters of public record and the facts and circumstances of a court deciding a custody or meditation issue will be part of the court record. However, what happens in mediation generally does not become part of the public record, except for any agreements signed by the parties.
During mediation, there is generally no court reporter present. The parties' statements will generally not appear on any public records. This can be beneficial as it allows the parties to freely discuss their ideas and concerns without worrying about their words being put down in the public record.
Child Custody and Visitation Representation
If you have any questions about mediation in visitation or child custody disputes, talk to your Missouri family law attorney. Your lawyer can advise you on the best option for your situation to protect your rights and provide for your family. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm in Raymore online or by calling (816) 331-9968.