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Florida Child Custody (Time-Sharing) Mediation: Preparing for Success

Child custody mediation is a process where a family law mediator helps parents undergoing divorce discuss the terms of legal and physical custody of their child without the stress of traditional litigation. In Florida, child custody is also known as “parental responsibility” or “time-sharing.”

Preparing for a successful child custody mediation involves creating a checklist of things to discuss and bring to the session. It’s ideal for parties to have their own proposed parenting plans to help identify what disputes need to be worked on.

In Florida, the child custody mediation process involves looking for disputes, discussing potential solutions, and drafting an agreement.

The court may assign a mediator depending on their combined annual income. Or, parents can look for private mediators to accommodate them.

How to Prepare for a Successful Child Custody Mediation

Preparing for a successful child custody mediation session involves having a checklist that includes things parents may want to discuss.

This process includes proposing a time-sharing plan, discussing shared parental responsibility, and bringing important documents.

Child Custody Mediation Checklist

A mediation checklist lists related topics that the couple wants to discuss during the family law mediation regarding time-sharing.

Each parent can create a time-sharing proposal for what they believe would be a fair parenting plan. The following items should be included in a child custody mediation checklist:

  • Parenting time – Also known as visitation or time-sharing, it is the time a child spends with the other parent who doesn’t have physical custody of them after the divorce.
  • Child care decisions – Legal custody means being responsible for important child-rearing decisions, while physical custody is where the child will live.
  • Custody details – This includes swapping custody (such as where parents pick up or drop off the kids when it’s the other parent’s turn for time-sharing) and the costs of sharing custody.
  • Other fiscal decisions regarding the children – Parents should also discuss financial responsibilities, such as providing spousal and child support, after the divorce.
  • Future communication methods – The couple’s chosen method should be reliable in emergencies. However, the method should also be comfortable, so if either parent is uncomfortable talking on the phone, they can opt for texting.
  • Personal and shared liabilities – Each parent must bring documents related to personal and shared liabilities and assets to help support any statements regarding their children’s financial needs.
  • Schedule modifications – In case of issues, such as when a child or parent is sick, decide if there will be a make-up day or if the time-sharing schedule will be followed again as soon as the other parent has recovered.
  • School vacations – This is especially important if both parents work since they must decide where their children will stay while school is out. Related to that, will the kids attend camps or daycare too?
  • Prepare to compromise – Many parents won’t agree on every decision, so it might be helpful to have a tiebreaker.
  • Contact information – Couples should share contact information of important people and places in their children’s lives. This can include potential babysitters, emergency contacts, schools, and doctors.
  • Cover requirements when a parent moves – When one parent has to move, will the other parent help them cover the fees and get the necessary requirements?
  • Holidays and birthdays – Parents should decide how their kids will spend days like holidays and birthdays after the divorce. Will the time-sharing schedule be the same each year, or will it alternate between each parent?
  • Insurance coverage – Insurance coverage can change when couples inhabit separate households after a divorce. Florida law states they should also ensure that their children remain covered by important insurance.
  • Court documents – All court paperwork related to the couple’s divorce and the custody situation should be brought during the family law mediation.
  • Method of Payment – Before the session, couples should ask the mediator about their payment methods and decide how to split the fees. However, this won’t be needed for free mediation sessions.
  • Remain polite and professional – The discussion might get heated, but couples still shouldn’t let their emotions get the best of them.
  • Proposed parenting plan – Parenting plans establish parental responsibility, and having a proposal prepared makes it easier to identify possible disputes so family mediators know what to focus on.

What Should You Bring to Child Custody Mediation?

Couples should bring everything that can make the mediation session run more smoothly. These include the following.

  • Important documents, such as court documents and financial statements
  • Method of paying the mediator
  • Contact information of important people, like relatives
  • The child’s school calendar
  • The child’s extracurricular calendar
  • Time-sharing proposal

Couples should also bring food and drinks since the session can take hours. On top of that, it’s advisable to wear layers in case the mediator’s office is too hot or too cold.

What to Ask for in Child Custody Mediation

Couples should discuss questions that should be brought up in family law mediation. These questions include the following subjects.

  • Who gets legal custody
  • Division of parenting time
  • Communication with the other parent and the children
  • Decision-making authority
  • Potential relocation and logistical issues resulting from it
  • Child support
  • Co-parenting strategies
  • The child’s wishes

What Not to Say in Child Custody Mediation

A divorce that requires child custody mediation can be an emotional rollercoaster. However, some things that might cause more disputes or further strain the relationship should be avoided.

Things to avoid saying or discussing in family law mediation for child custody include:

  • Aggressive language – Examples of this include name-calling, insulting, and threatening.
  • Possessive language – Possessive language (like “my children”) might make the mediators think that one parent is possessive or controlling of the kids.
  • Unreasonable demands – Unreasonable demands (such as visitation rights that aren’t in the child’s best interests) can make it harder to reach an equitable agreement.
  • Personal problems – Couples should keep their conversations child-centered, so they must not bring up past mistakes or other issues in the family or marriage. Parents should also avoid making personal insults that can cause more disputes.
  • Parental rights – Parents should be familiar with their rights and responsibilities under Florida Statutes even before their family mediation session so they can focus on their child’s best interests and well-being.

Child Custody Mediation Tips

It can be easier to resolve child custody issues and end with a written agreement if both parties are prepared. Some tips for a smooth family mediation session include:

  • Preparing notes for what a spouse wants to say
  • Considering the other parent’s perspective
  • Complying with the mediator’s requests in a timely manner
  • Staying on topic
  • Focusing on the children’s best interests and well-being
  • Keeping an open mind

Opening Statement Child Custody Mediation Examples

An opening statement is an opportunity for both parties to lay the foundation of their concerns and possible disputes regarding the case. Here is a very brief example statement that a parent may use before mediation.

Your Honor, at today’s hearing I will prove why the child’s current living situation has improved while living in my custody, and why it would be in their best interests to maintain this arrangement.

How Does Child Custody Mediation Work?

In the State of Florida, the mediation process for parental responsibility (time-sharing) involves parents meeting with a family law mediator to solve disputes and concerns regarding raising their children after divorce.

At the end of the session, the mediator will summarize the points and suggest the next steps.

For instance, the couple can sign a settlement if they have reached an agreement. Or, they can give up on negotiations and continue through a formal trial.

How to Setup Child Custody Mediation

The family court may order mediation. In this case, they will assign a mediator and schedule the meeting.

In other cases, couples must hire their own private mediator.

When setting up a mediation with a private mediator, couples can choose their own and have sessions scheduled sooner. They can contact someone they already know or ask for recommendations from others.

How Much Does Child Custody Mediation Services Cost

In Florida, the price for mediation services vary depending on the type of mediation and the income of the parents. Child custody mediation costs $60 to $600, depending on how much the couple earns.

Family court-ordered mediation fees depend on the couple’s combined annual income.

Parents’ Income | Mediation Cost per Hour

≤$50,000 | $60/hour

≤$100,000 | $120/hour

>$100,000 | Private Mediation ($150 to $600/hour)

Note that couples who hold an income-based fee waiver won’t need to pay anything.

What to Expect at Mediation for Child Custody?

During child mediation, parents will work with their partner alongside a mediator’s guidance to agree on how they will continue taking care of their children after divorce.

There are four main steps they can expect:

  • Meeting with the mediator – Parents will gain a better understanding of the process with their mediators, its impact on children, and how they can make it easier for their children.
  • Identifying possible disputes – Both spouses should ideally have prepared a list of things they want to discuss, including a proposed parenting plan. The mediator and the parents can take note of the differences.
  • Discuss potential solutions – Many parents may have to compromise on time sharing to solve disputes (such as on visitation time or child support), and the mediator will help them reach an agreeable solution for all parties.
  • Drafting a custody agreement – Once parents have reached a point of understanding on the terms of the custody, the mediator can help them draft an agreement.

What is a Mediation Custody Agreement?

A mediation child custody agreement is an arrangement the couple creates regarding how each parent will care for the child when the marriage ends. A mediated parenting plan lets parents work in the best interests of their children, which can result in better co-parenting.

A custody settlement agreement should contain several important points:

  • Custody arrangements – Who gets physical and legal custody, or will one parent have sole custody, or will there be joint custody for equally shared parental responsibility?
  • Visitation schedule – The agreement should contain aspects of time-sharing like regular visitation, holiday visitation, and vacations.
  • Communication guidelines – Are conversations between the couple and their children held through emails, calls, texts, or physical visits?
  • Decision-making authority – If the couple has decided on having joint custody, they should also include if they’ll have equal input on every decision or if they’ll each be responsible for different aspects of the child’s upbringing.
  • Child support arrangements – Will one parent shoulder the costs directly related to child-rearing, or will the fees be split?
  • Dispute resolution process – If any disagreements relating to custody arise after mediation, this will outline what system will be used and how parents may change the custody arrangement if needed.
  • Access to records – Couples should decide if both of them get the right to direct and complete access to records related to the child’s well-being and development (such as school and medical records).

How Long Does Custody Mediation Take?

In Florida, child custody mediation can take as little as half a day (around three hours) or as long as three days, depending on the complexity of the case or how compromising the parents are.

In most cases, mediation takes half a day to a full day for small claims. If parents still haven’t solved all disputes, they must return for additional sessions.

What is a Child Custody Mediator?

A child custody mediator is a neutral third party who is experienced in the methods of mediation. A child custody mediator guides parents in discussing concerns related to time-sharing and their children’s upbringing and needs.

These professionals can be legal or mental health professionals who have training in conflict resolution and parental responsibility. Private mediators can also have specialized knowledge and approaches.

Mediators can’t provide therapy or legal advice.

What Does a Mediator Do in Child Custody?

In child custody mediation, the mediator’s role is to help parents reach an agreement on how they will continue caring for their children and time-sharing after the divorce.

A mediator helps identify disputes and concerns between both parents, facilitates communication, encourages problem-solving, and promotes the child’s best interests.

They do this by listening actively to both sides and creating an atmosphere of trust.

What Questions Does a Mediator Ask a Child?

During child custody mediation, a mediator may ask the child about their views regarding their current and future situation. However, mediators won’t ask children specific questions such as “Who do you want to live with?”

Instead, they’ll ask open-ended and generalized questions that can give them an idea of what the child or children want regarding living arrangements, visitation schedule, participation in activities with parents, and relationship with each parent.

For instance, mediators may ask questions like:

  • What is it like when your mom and dad talk?
  • Do you feel supported when doing schoolwork?
  • What would your ideal schedule be with your mom? What about with your dad?

Depending on the answers, mediators may get hints of things like child abuse or how their mental health is doing. They may also try to figure out how the parents’ marriage is.

If mediators suspect child abuse by either parent, then the session can’t be kept confidential. In such cases, child custody will be decided by law.

Who Can Attend Child Custody Mediation in Florida?

In Florida, only the couple and approved parties may attend. That means if parents want friends, family members, or others to attend the mediation session, all parties (including the mediator) must agree to their presence.

If not everyone agrees, then they can’t attend.

If they’re allowed to join the mediation, they’ll also be bound by confidentiality under the law.

Is a Lawyer Needed for Child Custody Mediation?

In Florida, it is not required to have a lawyer attend a mediation session, but it is recommended because they can give the couple legal advice to ensure their rights are still protected according to Florida Statutes.

On top of that, an attorney can also protect the children’s best interests.

Child Custody Mediation vs Court Litigation

Child custody in traditional litigation takes place in court, where a judge makes decisions regarding the terms and disputes in time-sharing according to the law. The benefits of litigation include having more clear-cut resolutions to disputes.

Couples also get legal protections under Florida law, such as court-ordered child support and parenting plans that solidify parental responsibility.

Litigation is also good for complex cases — such as when there are serious concerns about either parent’s ability to care for the children after the divorce.

Meanwhile, mediation is voluntary and more confidential. Parents have complete control over the terms of time-sharing, which is enough for small claims.

It can also help save time and money when they resolve disputes. Even private mediation costs significantly less than court litigation.

Who Pays Attorney Fees in a Florida Child Custody Case?

In a Florida child custody case, each party pays for their own attorney. However, if one parent is significantly financially better off than the other, Florida courts might order them to pay for the other parent.

A child custody attorney is well-versed in the laws and local court rules that can affect the outcome of custodial arrangements. They’ll give couples personalized legal advice to understand their options regarding things like custody and visitation.

What Are Florida’s Family Law Mediation Rules?

Divorce mediation in Florida follows several rules, especially if the Florida courts have ordered it before the divorce proceeds to litigation. Some family law mediation rules include:

  • Mediation must be completed within 75 days from the first session unless otherwise ordered by the court.
  • Mediation fees will depend on the couple’s combined annual income.
  • In the event of successful mediation, a written agreement shall be filed with the court if necessary.
  • If the outcome is not successful, the mediator reports back to the court, which may also include identifying any pending motions or outstanding legal issues.

Understanding these rules is an important part of preparing for child custody mediation.