In Missouri parties must attend mediation if there is a dispute about child custody issues. The requirement is for two hours but parties can choose to stay longer or return for additional visits if they feel that they are on the right track to resolving their issues.
Mediation is a form of dispute resolution that is commonly used in divorce and modification proceedings. In Missouri a domestic relations mediator must be either have a Master’s degree in some type of social work field or their Juris Doctorate (law degree). The mediator plays the role of a neutral third party who is not there to make any decisions for the parties, but rather to help them come to resolution. They are there to be referees so to speak. Basically, they are there to try and help you resolve your issues and the best only intercede if the talking becomes yelling. You should expect them to give suggestions on different parenting plans but they will leave it up to you to make the ultimate decisions.
After the agreed upon session or sessions if there is any agreement the mediator will write up what is called a Memorandum of Understanding. This is a written version of what you agreed on in mediation. It is not binding until it is signed off by the judge or commissioner. One thing to keep in mind that anything that is said in mediation cannot be admitted as evidence at trial.
The rules of evidence were written like this in order to promote unhindered resolution among the parties. If parties had to worry about what was said being used against them it would hinder the resolution process.
Because this process allows you a chance at cooperation and productive resolution to difficult issues it is important to be prepared when you go to mediation. It is true that at times the process can become very emotional and heated. After all, you are sitting across the table from someone with whom you are in the middle of a divorce or modification. There are certain steps you can take before you enter the mediation session to help you be more successful.
The first, and most important step, is to review the parenting plan that you and your attorney drafted. Make sure it accurately reflects what you want in regards to the time you will be spending with your children.
Secondly, make notes on the parenting plan. I advise my clients that they should go through each paragraph carefully and mark each one in one of three ways. Put a number 1 by the items that you absolutely must have; things that you will not back down on. Put a number 2 by the items that you would like to have but are willing to make sacrifices or concessions on. Put a number 3 by the items that you really do not care about. Those can be your bargaining chips so to speak because while they may not be important to you they may be extremely important to the other party. Welcome to the art of negotiation.
Once you have prioritized your requirements you may then move on to the third step: making a chart. Now that you have designated each item as a 1, 2 or 3 then put that down on a table or list. It doesn’t have to be detailed; just enough information so that you will remember what that item is and where it fits in your priorities. The key to avoiding trouble as always is preparation. As I said earlier, mediations have a tendency to get heated. If you have this piece of paper right in front of you it is a way to keep you focused on the task at hand. Having mapped out your thoughts and priorities means that you are much less likely to be caught off guard. Knowing what matters most to you and what you are willing to concede means that you are more likely to keep your footing and not be shaken as the opposing party makes their demands.
It is also important to remember that although you are ordered to mediate custody disputes you cannot be ordered to agree. It sometimes happens that the two parties are not able to come to a resolution and find a point of agreement. Do not agree to something that you do not like just to get out of the mediation. It could come back to hurt you in the end. It is also alright to agree to some items but not all. It is not an all or nothing proposition.
Bottom line: The better prepared and organized that you are when you go to mediation the more likely you will be to be successful.