If a party files a claim for child custody, the court will likely require both parties to attend mandatory custody mediation. In limited instances, the court may waive the requirement for “good cause.” If you receive a notice ordering you to participate in the court-ordered mediation process, then you should be sure to attend and participate in the process in good faith unless mediation is waived.
In Wake County, the mandatory mediation will take place at the courthouse in front of a neutral third party (usually a non-lawyer) who will attempt to assist the parties in reaching a mutually- acceptable agreement. The mediator has no decision-making authority. If the parties are unable to agree, then the mediation will end, and the litigation process may continue. If the parties are able to reach an agreement, the mediator will draft a written agreement and allow both parties to review the document and/or have their respective attorneys review the document, before entering it in a court order.
At a court-ordered mediation, the parties’ attorneys will not be permitted to be present or to participate. Both of the parties and the mediator will sit together in the same room and attempt to reach a resolution to their custody issue. It is important to remember that the proceedings are completely confidential. No one involved in the mediation, including the mediator, may testify later about any communications that were made in an attempt to negotiate or resolve the custody dispute. This is a useful feature of the mediation process which enables the parties to negotiate in good faith without fear that their comments might be used against them if negotiations break down.
Ultimately, mediation allows the parties to control the outcome and to determine whether an agreement is reached. Additionally, you will be given the opportunity to discuss any potential agreement with an attorney before it is memorialized or finalized in a court order.