Court Mediation in WI Custody and Placement Cases

Mediation is an alternative to litigating in court. In mediation, parents talk through their disagreements in a private setting led by a neutral mediator. The mediator seeks to help them agree on a parenting plan so they can settle the case.

Parents in cases involving custody and placement typically have to participate in mediation provided by the court unless they have a settlement ready.

Mediation in Wisconsin is confidential, and neither the parents nor the mediator can give the court information from sessions, other than agreements reached.

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Who should attend mediation

Parents who are ordered to attend must. In addition, parents who are willing to compromise on custody and placement should participate.

However, the court may find that mediation is not appropriate if it could jeopardize a parent or child, such as when:

Requesting court mediation (if you're not ordered to attend)

If you'd like to try mediation and the court hasn't ordered you to attend, you can reach out to your Office of Family Court Services. The office will contact the other parent to see if they'll participate voluntarily. If the parent refuses, you should file a Request for Court-Ordered Mediation.

Scheduling and costs of court mediation

Mediation provided by the court can happen before or after your first status conference.

You may have to attend an orientation ahead of time to learn about procedures, legal terminology and co-parenting.

In many counties, the first mediation session is free. Elsewhere, each parent pays a fee, usually around $100. For additional sessions, the court usually charges around $150 per person. If a parent receives state aid or has an income at or below the poverty level, the court may waive or reduce fees.

Court mediation procedures

Mediation takes place at your county's Office of Family Court Services. Generally, only parents and the mediator are present.

You aren't required to bring anything. However, arriving with a suggested parenting plan and your family calendar can help negotiations.

To begin, the mediator evaluates the case to make sure mediation is appropriate. From there, the mediator facilitates a conversation between parents, guiding them through possible contents of a parenting plan. Each session typically lasts an hour.

If parents agree on terms, the mediator writes them up to submit to the court.

If there isn't an agreement, the mediator writes a notice of failed mediation for the court. Later, each parent may be required to submit a proposed parenting plan to the court.

You cannot discuss matters besides custody and placement in court-provided mediation. To address other issues, use private mediation or another alternative dispute resolution method.

Private mediation

When you use mediation from a private practice, you can address issues outside of custody and placement, there's more scheduling flexibility and you get to choose your mediator with the other parent. This option is more costly than mediation offered through the Office of Family Court Services.

Usually, private mediators are retired judges or experienced family law attorneys.

Agreements from private mediation are treated the same as agreements from court mediation; if the custody and placement terms are in the child's best interest, the court will approve the agreement as the final order.

Tips for parents going to mediation

  • Arrive on time.
  • Focus on the topics at hand, not old fights.
  • Put your child first.
  • Pay attention to what the other parent and the mediator have to say.
  • Don't talk over anyone.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Don't feel pressured to agree to something — you're not required to settle.

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 placement 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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