Custody Mediation

Learn about how custody mediation works and how to get an appointment.
What is custody mediation?

Mediation is a conversation between parents that is guided by a neutral third party, or “mediator,” who works for the court. Parents meet together with the mediator to talk about child custody, share information and make decisions together to avoid having a trial. A custody case must be filed to participate in the courts’ Child Custody and Visitation Mediation Program.

What are the advantages of custody mediation?

Mediators are trained to help parents work through their difficulties and find the best child custody solutions for their family. This allows parents to avoid the stress, anxiety, time, and expense of going to court, and ensures that decisions about the children’s lives are made by the adults who know them best and are responsible for raising them.

Is everyone required to go to mediation?

Yes, in general. The parents and anyone else making a legal claim for custody of the children are required to attend unless a judge “waives” mediation, meaning that the parties are legally excused from attending. Waiver does not happen automatically. If you want mediation to be waived, you must file a Motion and Order to Waive Custody Mediation, which can be found online or in person in the Custody Mediation Office. The judge will then decide whether to waive mediation in your case. Valid reasons to waive mediation include: you live more than fifty (50) miles from the court; the other party has abused you or the children; the other party suffers from alcoholism, drug addiction or severe psychiatric or psychological problems; or you have agreed to a private mediation.

How does custody mediation work?

After a custody case is filed, the parties are required to attend an orientation class. After that, there will be a mediation session of up to two hours. If you need additional time, another session can be scheduled at the mediator’s discretion if the parties agree. If you reach an agreement in mediation, the mediator will prepare a written Parenting Agreement, which will be signed by the parties and a judge.

How do I sign up for custody mediation?

This process varies by county. A custody case must be filed to participate in the courts’ Child Custody and Visitation Mediation Program. You should ask about signing up when you file your case. If someone else files a case against you, you should receive information about your orientation class in the mail.

Do I have to pay for custody mediation?

No. The courts provide custody mediation free of charge.

What is orientation?

Orientation is a group class that prepares people for mediation. Orientation is usually scheduled within 30 days of the date the case is sent to the Custody Mediation Program. The other person or people involved in your case may be at the same orientation session, but you are not required to talk to each other or make decisions at orientation.

Can the mediator make decisions about my case?

No. The mediator does not decide who is right or wrong and does not make any decisions about child custody. The mediator’s job is to guide the parents’ discussion of the children’s needs and the parents’ concerns, and to help the parents reach an agreement if possible.

Do I need to bring evidence to custody mediation?

No. Custody mediation is about agreeing on a solution for your case, not proving it, and you are not expected to agree about things that happened in the past. Having evidence to present to the court is important if you cannot resolve your case in mediation and your case has to be decided by a judge.

Do I need an attorney for mediation?

Attorneys do not attend mediation sessions through the Custody Mediation Program. However, it is recommended that anyone with a child custody or visitation case consult an attorney to learn about their legal rights and obligations, and to review the draft of the Parenting Agreement, even if the case does not go to trial.

Can we make decisions about child support in mediation?

No. Custody mediation helps parents make decisions only about child custody and visitation, not financial issues. You can file for child support through your county’s Child Support Enforcement office.

Will the mediator tell the judge what we said in mediation?

No. The discussions in mediation sessions are private. The mediator will not share information discussed in the session with others, including the judge or attorneys. This rule does not apply if the mediator has concerns about unreported child abuse, hears threats to harm someone, or witnesses a crime.

What happens if we reach an agreement in mediation?

The mediator will write a draft of the Parenting Agreement and send it for review to the parties, and to their attorneys, if they are represented. If possible, parents should meet with an attorney before signing a Parenting Agreement. After the parties sign the agreement, a judge will review and sign it.

Is a Parenting Agreement legally binding?

Yes. Once a judge signs it, your Parenting Agreement becomes a court order. The agreement then has the same legal effect as if the judge had decided the custody case after a trial. Once the order is signed, the parties cannot change it without additional court action. Parties can be held in contempt of court for violating the signed Parenting Agreement.

What if we don’t agree in mediation?

If there is no agreement in mediation, one of the parties will need to schedule the case for trial. If you have not yet hired an attorney, it is recommended that you do so. Attorneys are often able to negotiate a resolution before trial. Otherwise, a judge will hear and decide your case.

What if a custody case involves a nonparent?

In some situations, grandparents or other third parties may file a claim for child custody. All parties to the case, including nonparents, must attend mediation. It is especially important for anyone involved in a case with a nonparent to contact an attorney for more information about their rights and obligations.

How can I make a complaint about mediation?

Any complaints about mediation or a specific mediator should be in writing and can be mailed to the Chief District Court Judge of the judicial district where the mediation took place.

What is family court?

Family court is available in some districts / counties in North Carolina. A major goal of family court is to consolidate and assign a family's legal issues before a single district court judge or team of judges. Parent education programs also may be available. Together, the dedicated family court judges and staff implement policies that promote prompt and just resolution of family law issues. Learn more.