Keep in mind that I live in southern California and the system here may be different than the systems in other parts of the state. Certainly the system here is different than those in other states. But since I wrote all about what it’s like being investigated by Child Welfare Services, I thought I’d give the lowdown on this, too.
One of the most anxiety-producing things about being served with divorce papers last month was the top sheet. It was the petition for custody, and there was a custody mediation scheduled less than three weeks after I was served. When I saw my lawyer four days later, she told me the mediation appointments were like gold and I should absolutely keep it.
I wasn’t expecting that. I thought she’d dive right in with a motion to push the date back. I was wrong. And my lawyer had another suggestion: go see a mediation coach.
Sheesh, there’s an entire thriving industry built around American divorce. I made an appointment with the mediation coach, let’s call her Angel, for later the next week. Then I got busy with some of the other aspects of the legality of dissolving a marriage.
Custody mediators, in my county, are all licensed therapeutic professionals with Master’s degrees or Ph.D.s. They can be clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, or psychologists. Angel, my coach, was a MFT and custody mediator with another court in my county, so she knew precisely what happens in mediation.
She started at the very beginning, telling me where the courthouse was located and where to park. She told me where the office was located in the court building. Both Voldemort and I would wait in the reception area and watch a video on co-parenting while filling out forms. When the mediator called us back, we would go to her office together. The only exception to this is if there are allegations of domestic violence. Then the abuse survivor can have a support person attend and be in a separate room from the perpetrator. No lawyers are allowed. She made sure I understood what would happen, which greatly reduced my anxiety.
Then she went through the petition and asked me questions. What do you think he’s going to say? What parenting disagreements have you had? What does the child say?
She advised me to remain as calm and relaxed as possible. Above all, do not get angry. Or if I felt angry, don’t express it. No yelling. No accusations. Stick to the custody matter, no talking about money or infidelity or anything else. If Voldemort lied, I could wait until he was finished, then say, “That’s not an accurate statement,” or “That’s not factual.” No interrupting, though. Don’t use the terms custody, visitation, or my kids. Try to use parenting time and our kids.
She also outlined what the mediator was really looking for: history of parenting; concerns about parenting and the child(ren); and proposed parenting time share. She went through each area with me and helped me craft my responses. She was particularly helpful with the proposed parenting plan. Angel also gave me the forms I would be asked to fill out in the waiting area so I could complete them at home. This was a huge help since that waiting room was filled with tense and angry people.
Mediation lasts between one hour and two-and-a-half hours. Ours ran just at an hour. We ended up agreeing to my proposed parenting plan, which was heartily endorsed by the mediator.
In the end, the mediation went pretty much just as Angel described. And while I was nervous, I wasn’t frantic. Knowing what to expect put me much more at ease. I received a copy of the mediator’s report about a week later and it was just as we agreed, although there’s a page that baldly states the time share of parenting which is startling. The layout almost looks like a preschool graduation diploma.
Next step is going to court for the judge’s ruling. There’s certainly time for someone to object to the report or to change his mind, but absent some new facts or circumstances (like a DUI or an arrest or something like that), custody should be pretty much set.
Now we move on to the cage match that is property division.