A common problem in divorces and separations is that each parent wants to spend the maximum possible time with the children. In some cases, both parents want the children to live with them and will only grudgingly agree to let the children see the other parent.
How do you resolve those disputes? One was is to let the judge decide, but that should only be done as a last resort. The judge does not know you or your family. You will probably be more satisfied with the outcome if you negotiate a workable solution rather than leaving your fate in the hands of a stranger.
You can get help resolving disputes involving children by engaging in a dispute resolution process. In fact, the court will probably require you to do that before a judge will agree to decide the dispute for you. Family dispute resolution practitioners offer mediation services to parents who cannot resolve their own differences. The practitioner is a neutral party who does not take either side. Rather, based on the practitioner’s understanding of the law and of available options, the practitioner can help guide the parties toward a settlement of their differences.
Dispute resolution practitioners do not impose an outcome on the parents. They make suggestions about what might be best for the children and for both parents. They might make predictions about what the court would do if the court decided the case. With that knowledge, parents can weigh the risks of going to trial against the certainty that they have negotiated an arrangement that they can live with.
In some cases, the court will not require mediation. Exceptions to the mediation requirement apply when an emergency exists or when mediation would be dangerous for one of the parents. In cases of family abuse, for instance, a parent might be justifiably frightened of engaging the other parent in a mediation process. When evidence supports an exception, the court will excuse mediation and will agree to decide the parenting dispute.
In most cases, however, the law requires a good-faith attempt at mediation. Parents must make a genuine effort to resolve their differences by using the services of a family dispute resolution practitioner.
Mediation is required because it allows cases to move more swiftly through the judicial system. From the standpoint of parents, however, mediation allows disputes to be resolved without the expense or stress of a trial. Even if the law did not require a genuine effort at dispute resolution, it would be in the best interests of parents in most cases to negotiate a resolution that serves their mutual needs.