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Prepare for Child Custody Mediation in Michigan

In mediation, a family law expert helps parents communicate and resolve disputes in order to reach a settlement agreement.

Many counties require parents litigating custody to attempt mediation, unless the case involves domestic violence.

Everything said in mediation remains confidential (except when child abuse is suspected). Mediators do not make custody recommendations to the court or report on proceedings.

Mediators are also prohibited from offering legal advice.

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What to expect in mediation

Your attorney can attend mediation conferences with you, as well as help you prepare. Other people, such as family members and religious advisers, may attend only if both parents agree.

A typical mediation conference lasts three to four hours. First, the parents make opening statements. Then, the mediator meets with parents individually to discuss possible solutions to the contested issues. If appropriate, the mediator can also meet with the parents together.

When parents reach an agreement, the mediator puts it into a parenting time schedule or a parenting plan. These documents become court orders once approved by a judge.

If parents don't reach a complete settlement, they can schedule another session to keep trying. Or they can submit a partial agreement to the court, and their unresolved issues move to the next step in the court process (often a custody investigation).

Types of mediation

Michigan allows two types of mediation: evaluative and facilitative. Parents decide which to use.

In evaluative, the mediator recommends a custody arrangement and parenting schedule to parents (but never to the court). Parents do not have to follow the recommendations.

In facilitative, the mediator does not make recommendations.

Places offering mediation

Where you go for mediation depends on the specifics of your case and when you want to begin.

Friend of the Court offices

Most Friend of the Court (FOC) offices provide free mediation for straightforward cases. To participate, parents must have an open family court case, and — usually — they must have attended conciliation with their FOC case manager.

Many offices require parents to schedule mediation in advance, but some offer walk-in sessions.

If your case is complex or your office has a long wait for an appointment, the FOC may refer you to a community dispute resolution center.

Community dispute resolution centers

Community dispute resolution centers are court-appointed organizations that offer low-cost mediation. A session typically costs $75 to $125, and parents decide how to split the cost.

Anyone can use a community dispute resolution center; you don't need a referral or an open case.

Private practices

Some parents opt for private mediation, especially those looking to hire someone with unique expertise (e.g., LGBTQ issues or complex finances).

Private mediators can often schedule sessions sooner than the FOC or a community dispute resolution center.

They typically charge $150 to $300 an hour, and parents decide how to share the cost.

You don't need a referral or an open case to use private mediation. If the court orders you to mediation, you may only use a private mediator if they're certified by the state in domestic relations dispute resolution.

When to attend mediation

During a case

Parents often go to mediation after one opens a case.

Typically, if parents can't reach an agreement in conciliation, the court refers them to mediation. Then they must attend at least one mediation session before the court will allow a final custody hearing.

Parents with an open case can file a settlement as soon as they reach an agreement.

Before you file a case

Parents can also choose to go to mediation before they file a case. At this point, they can work with a private practice or community dispute resolution center, but not an FOC mediator.

If they reach a complete agreement, they can submit their settlement paperwork when they open a case. This is ideal for parents who want to resolve their case quickly.

If you're not married to the other parent, you can get your settlement approved in a hearing on the court's next available date. If you're divorcing or legally separating, your settlement hearing will be scheduled for at least 180 days after your filing date (unless the court approves a motion to waive the waiting period).

Tips for successful mediation

Mediation is much more likely to result in a settlement if you prepare.

Do:

  • Bring multiple copies of all paperwork, including proposed parenting schedules
  • Read up on how to negotiate effectively
  • Prepare notes for what you want to say
  • Consider the other parent's perspective and anticipate their requests
  • Keep an open mind, and trust the process
  • Take notes during the session
  • Stay on topic when speaking
  • Focus on your children's best interests

Don't:

  • Argue to "win," or treat the process as a trial
  • Interrupt anyone
  • Rehash old disagreements
  • Raise your voice or get angry
  • Speak negatively about the other parent
  • Lie or provide misleading information
  • Bring your children to the session

Tools for mediation

If mediation goes well, you could walk out with a parenting plan that will last until your children become adults. Are you ready?

Bring a parenting plan and multiple parenting time schedules to suggest. You might also bring a list of child-related expenses or entries from a parenting journal.

The Custody X Change app enables you to create all these items in one place.

Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared not only for mediation but for every step of your custody case.

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