Child Custody Mediation in Washington

Often, when people think of a dispute over a child, their minds go straight to a courtroom. But seeking child custody does not mean you have to follow the traditional litigation process.

Parents can often save time and money using an alternative dispute resolution method to settle a case. Mediation is the most popular method.

Mediators guide parents through contested issues like decision-making, residential time and child support to encourage compromise.

If parents reach an agreement in mediation, they draft a parenting plan (or have the mediator or their lawyers do it). The plan becomes a court order once a judge signs off.

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Mediation basics

Most parents need one session lasting several hours to either agree on a parenting plan or give up and decide to go to trial.

Sessions are confidential. Parents cannot litigate with information learned from the sessions, and mediators cannot report to the court on developments (except on agreements reached).

Attorneys can attend when the mediator allows it.

Evaluative vs. facilitative mediation

There are two main types of mediators: evaluative and facilitative.

Evaluative mediators are the most common. Highly familiar with family law, these mediators tell parents how a case would likely play out in a courtroom. They can draft parenting plans.

Facilitative mediators don't offer analysis or opinions. They tend not to have extensive legal knowledge and cannot draft parenting plans.

Voluntary mediation vs. mediation by court order

Parents may decide to try mediation of their own accord before or after opening a case.

In this situation, parents must choose a mediator together and decide how to split the cost. Private mediators typically charge $200 to $400 per hour.

Most counties in Washington require parents to attend mediation before starting a custody trial. (Parents are only required to attempt mediation, not reach an agreement.) You can be exempted if you've already tried mediation or if your case involves domestic violence.

When ordered to attend mediation, parents can either agree on a mediator (perhaps from a list provided by the court) or have one the judge choose one.

Courts in some small counties offer mandated mediation free for up to three hours. In other counties, a judge determines how parents split the cost of mandated mediation.

Tips for parents going to mediation


  • Comply with the mediator's requests in a timely manner
  • Anticipate the other parent's requests and read up on negotiating effectively
  • Prepare notes for what you want to say
  • Arrive on time and come prepared to pay any fees
  • Keep an open mind and trust the process
  • Consider the other parent's perspective
  • Take notes
  • Stay on topic, focusing on the important issues
  • Focus on your child's best interests


  • 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 child to the conference

Preparing for mediation

Preparation is as important when you decide custody through mediation as when you decide it through trial.

You'll still be trying to convince someone — just the other parent rather than the court.

A proposed parenting plan with a residential schedule presents your argument persuasively. You may also want to present messages exchanged with the other parent, your child's expenses, and more.

The Custody X Change online app lets you create all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, customizable residential calendars, parent-to-parent messaging and an expense tracker, Custody X Change prepares you for any method of deciding custody in Washington.

It empowers you to get what's best for your child.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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