Alternative Ways to Decide Custody in North Carolina

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 one of the following alternative dispute resolution methods to settle a case.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans for traditional and alternative methods of deciding custody.

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Mediation

Mediators guide parents through contentious issues and propose compromises. If parents decide to settle, the mediator drafts a parenting agreement and submits it to the court. It becomes a permanent court order once the judge signs off.

North Carolina requires parents to attend mediation before starting a custody trial. Parents can also try private mediation at any point during their negotiations. But parents aren't obligated to settle, and they can stop both processes at any time.

Mediation 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).

Court-mandated mediation

In court-mandated mediation, the court assigns parents a free mediator. You can be exempted from mandated mediation if you use private mediation, live more than 50 miles from the courthouse or have a case involving domestic violence or substance abuse.

In this type of mediation, parents can resolve issues related to legal and physical custody, but not child support.

First, parents go to orientation to prepare. No decisions are made here, so you don't have to attend with the other parent.

Next comes a mediation session that can last up to two hours. The mediator meets with both parents in one room. If parents make progress, they can schedule additional sessions.

Attorneys can't attend court-mandated mediation sessions, but can review the parenting agreement before it goes to the court.

Private mediation

In private mediation, parents choose a mediator together. Private mediators typically charge $100 to $300 per hour, and most parents reach an agreement or decide to go to trial in three to five sessions.

In this type of mediation, you can resolve legal and physical custody, as well as child support.

Private mediators may speak to parents together or in separate rooms. You can bring your attorney.

Collaborative law

In collaborative law, parents work with lawyers and a team of experts to craft an agreement, called a consent order.

Each parent must hire a collaborative attorney to represent them. These attorneys have specialized training in the collaborative process. Your team may also include a financial professional, divorce coach and child specialist, who all work for both parents.

Potential benefits of collaborative law include:

  • Support: Your team provides legal and emotional support.
  • Control: Parents make their own decisions, instead of a judge.
  • Privacy: All discussions are confidential, although court documents are not.
  • Speed: There's no waiting for court dates, and many parents reach an agreement in less than six months.
  • Cost savings: Faster resolution than going to trial means fewer billable hours.

To start, all parties involved sign an agreement promising not to withhold information. You then attend sessions — some with the entire team, others with just certain members — until you and the other parent agree on a consent order and file it with the court.

If you and the other parent fail to agree and decide to go to trial, the collaborative attorneys must withdraw from the case. You will need to hire a new attorney or represent yourself.

Early neutral evaluation

In an early neutral evaluation, an evaluator reviews your case and hears parents' testimony, then provides an analysis of how a judge may rule.

Many parents use the evaluation to guide them to a settlement. If parents don't settle, the evaluator submits a report of his or her findings to the court.

Evaluators are neutral parties experienced in custody proceedings — usually judges or attorneys. Their rates range from $150 to $300 an hour, with parents often splitting the cost evenly. Evaluations typically occur in half- or full-day sessions.

Preparing for alternative dispute resolution

Preparation is as important when you decide custody through an alternative method as it is when you decide it in a courtroom.

Unless you and the other parent agree on all aspects of custody right away, you will be trying to convince someone, be it the other parent or an evaluator.

A parenting plan and visitation schedule present your argument persuasively. You may also need other tools: a graph of time spent with your child, a log of interactions with the other parent, a tabulation of who pays the child's expenses, etc.

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

With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, a journal, an expense tracker and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for any method of deciding custody. It makes sure you're prepared to get what's best for your child.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans for traditional and alternative methods of deciding custody.

Make My North Carolina Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans for traditional and alternative methods of deciding custody.

Make My Plan
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Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans for traditional and alternative methods of deciding custody.

Make My North Carolina Plan Now

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