Court-Ordered Mediation in Tennessee Custody Cases

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method where a mediator leads discussions on disputed issues to help parents reach a settlement. All conversations and documents presented are confidential and information gained from mediation cannot be used in court.

In mediation, parents often manage to communicate effectively and put personal issues aside for the benefit of their child. In many cases, parents are able to reach a compromise.

If there isn't a resolution at mediation, parents proceed through the court process.

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Who should attend mediation

Mediation is highly recommended for all cases that haven't reached an agreement, but it's generally only require for divorce and child custody cases. Parents who are separating can request mediation if the judge doesn't order it.

Domestic violence victims have a choice of whether to attend. If they do, they can select a mediator trained to deal with domestic violence situations and an advocate to accompany them.

If you've been ordered to attend mediation yet have a valid reason why it should not occur, you can file a motion to waive mediation. If you simply fail to show up, your absence may factor into the final ruling, and the judge could charge you with contempt of court.

Preparing for mediation

You aren't required to bring anything, but it's a good idea to have a proposed parenting plan to show the other parent and the mediator your ideal arrangement. You could also bring (but are not required to share):

Parents may choose to have a brief discovery period before mediation if they want information from each other before considering a settlement.

Getting a mediator

Either the court assigns a mediator or you and the other parent choose a mediator together. You must inform the court of whom you select, if anyone, if required by the court.

The court assigns Rule 31 mediators, who have met the state's standards for education and licensing. It's possible to hire a non-Rule 31 mediator, but the court may be less like to enforce an agreement you reach using that mediator if the agreement is later contested.

Scheduling and duration

You can attend mediation voluntarily anytime before or during a case, and the court can require you to attend anytime during a case. It's common for parents to go before their first court hearing.

Each mediation session is at least two hours long. The mediator can extend the session or add additional ones if parents are making progress. Most cases that resolve do so in a single four-hour to five-hour session.

If mediation is unsuccessful, parents can return later.


Hourly rates vary based on the mediator's location and experience. Parents in middle Tennessee can expect to pay $200 to $300 per hour. Generally, a portion is paid before sessions begin. Mediators may also charge for any out-of-session time they spend on the case.

Generally, parents split fees evenly, unless one parent is willing to absorb all of the costs.

Parents who cannot afford the costs may ask to pay a reduced fee.


Parents meet at the mediator's office with their lawyers or advocates, if applicable. If there's a guardian ad litem involved in the case, they may attend as well.

During mediation, each parent voices their opinion on how to resolve the case. They can discuss custody, child support and any other disagreement related to the case. The mediator is only there to facilitate the discussion and cannot give legal advice or make any decisions for the parties.

Some mediators place the parties in separate rooms. The mediator then goes back and forth communicating each parent's wishes to the other.

If parents reach a full agreement, the mediator writes up the terms. Attorneys formalize this mediated agreement into a proposed Permanent Parenting Plan. Parents who don't have lawyers enter the details of the agreement into the Permanent Parenting Plan template (or the Custody X Change parenting plan template if they're not married) and attach the mediated agreement when they file for settlement.

The same process applies when parents agree on a temporary parenting plan in mediation.

If parents reach a partial agreement, their parenting plan should note what they've resolved and what they haven't.

The court may schedule a settlement conference to encourage parents to settle any issues that remain undecided after mediation.

Tips for parents going to court-ordered mediation

  • Keep the focus on what's best for your child.
  • Mediators are allowed to share information between parties, so tell them if you want something to remain confidential.
  • Take the process seriously. Act in good faith to try to reach an agreement.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Don't feel pressured to agree to anything you don't want.

Tools for mediation

If mediation goes well, you could walk out with a parenting plan that will last until your child becomes an adult. 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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