This site is designed to provide you with some general information and to answer some frequently asked questions about the Family Court Mediation Program. This site may not contain all of the questions you may have regarding the Family Court Mediation Program.
Mediation is a process in which an impartial third party, called a mediator, assists parties in reaching agreements having to do with custody and visitation disputes. Mediation provides the parents with an opportunity to actively participate in making decisions which will affect the child(ren). As a parent, one maintains control over determining a "parenting plan" in which each parent and the child(ren) can live with. No child support or property issues are addressed at mediation.
There are three ways in which you may become involved with this program:
1) The case may be referred directly from court, by a Family Court judge. At the time of the hearing, the judge may decide that your issues might be resolved more easily with the assistance of a mediator and the judge may refer the matter to the Mediation Program via a court order.
2) When a complaint for custody and visitation is initially filed, that complaint may be screened by a case manager and found to be an appropriate case for mediation.
3) The particular matter may have been referred for a custody or visitation investigation. If this is done, the matter will automatically be screened to determine if it is appropriate for mediation. In the event it is appropriate, the parent(s) will automatically become involved in the Program.
Cases in which there is an active domestic violence restraining order between the parties or active DYFS involvement, are not accepted into the Program. Generally, matters are handled on a case by case basis to determine if they will be accepted. For information on the DYFS mediation program, please contact Susan Fuller, 609-594-3560.
Matters which involve issues of custody and visitation between two parents, or in some cases, other relatives, are ideal for mediation.
There is no guideline to determine exactly how long a particular case may take to be mediated. Some matters get resolved in as little as one hour while others may take up to six hours. All mediation appointments are scheduled in 1 1/2 hour blocks of time. It may be necessary to schedule a second or third appointment in order to resolve the dispute and reach a final agreement.
The mediator, after meeting with the parents at least one time, will determine when to end a session and close the case from the Mediation Program.
If both parents arrive at a mutually acceptable plan for custody or visitation, the mediator will prepare a consent order. This order will outline the terms of the agreement and will be signed by all parties involved; including the mediator. This consent order will then be presented to a Family Court judge to sign. Once the consent order is signed, it becomes a legal and enforceable order of the court. At this point, no further involvement with the court is necessary. The parties will receive a copy of the signed order and will not need to return to court.
If an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, one of two things can happen:
1) If the case was originally referred for a custody or visitation investigation, the matter will be automatically transferred to the Assessment Unit so that the appropriate investigation can be undertaken.
2) If the matter was referred directly into the Program from court, it will then be rescheduled before that same judge for a hearing at a later date.
All parties involved in the Mediation Program will have to attend a Family Court Mediation Workshop. At the Workshop, participants will view videotapes, receive written information relating to custody and visitation and are free to ask questions about the mediation process in general. The primary purpose of this Workshop is to educate parents as to how their children are affected when the parents become involved in custody and visitation disputes.
Only the individuals who are directly involved in the matter can participate in the mediation session.
As a general rule, children are not permitted to participate in any of the sessions between the parents. Only a judge may order a child to participate in mediation.
A party may be accompanied by their attorney to mediation. However, the process works best when it is just the parents involved in the case. Attorneys typically do not choose to attend mediation with their clients.
When parents become involved in mediation, they maintain control over the child(ren). They become an active participant in reaching agreements which will affect their lives as well as the life of the child(ren). Mediation encourages cooperation and communication between the parents. It is the parents who ultimately determine the issues relating to their child(ren). When matters of custody and visitation go into court, the control over making any decisions related to the child(ren) is surrendered to the judge, who has the final say.
There is no cost to the parties.
The mediation agreement will continue to be in effect unless changed by a subsequent order through mediation or by the court.