One of the most overlooked tools that A Non Custodial Parent has at their disposal is the ability to request a mediation for Friend of the Court (or your state's equivalent).
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There are many benefits for both parents by using mediation, but this how to article addresses how you can use it to your advantage for winning more parenting time, gaining a higher percentage of child custody, or just working out the details of a small dispute.
More often than not, the Non-Custodial parent is at a severe disadvantage if a case goes to court. The parent must fight against the preconceived notions of the courts that whoever has custody should keep it, and that there is no real reason to change the custody, or increase parenting time.
Using Mediation levels the playing field between parents, and can be a non-confrontational way to win what you want by persuading the other parent to your way of thinking.
Preparation: The first, and possibly most important step.
Preparation is critical. From planning what you want to achieve to a Realistic implementation of that plan, a solid foundation is needed. When you begin to plan, start with your goals. Keep them achievable, that is, don't ask for the whole farm!
Also consider what you are willing to give to the other parent in exchange for your request. Here, you don't want to give away the farm, either. Find a good balance of what you are willing to give and take in order to increase parenting time or better your child's situation.
Family Court is not friendly towards Non Custodial parents. Sadly, most good parents concerns are, for the most part, ignored or minimalized to a ridiculous level by the court. The costs are high, and the time taken can be years.
You can accomplish more in ONE mediation than years of going to family court and arguing over custody or parenting time.
Organizing your wants on paper.
An actor learns their lines. A sports professional practices, and you? You must be ready for the question, "What do you want from this?"
You must have the things that you want outlined in SPECIFIC terms. Just saying that you want more parenting time won't do a thing to help you. Saying that you want to pick up your child two hours earlier on Fridays to avoid the rush hour home specifically outlines both what you want AND why you want it.
It is also important to give the other parent a reason why you want to change something. The more reasonable your request is, and for good reasons, the more likely it will go over well.
The Offer: Sweetening the deal for even the most unreasonable parents.
Now you have to give a little... or do you? Sure, you could offer to drop the child off two hours earlier, but how would that benefit you gaining more time with your child?
The goal is to provide overwhelming benefits of such a change that the other parent just can't refuse. Here are some things that you might "offer":
"You'll be able to get your weekend started even earlier with this arrangement!"
"Wouldn't it be nice to have those two extra hours to do all the things that you couldn't get done with (our child) accomplished?"
"You said that you wanted to attend that swimming class on Friday nights. Now you wont have to rush home for me to pick up our daughter, I'll even pick her up from daycare so that you can go straight to your classes!"
This last one could be the "sales closer." See the benefits to the other parent? Why wouldn't they want to go along with your request? It saves them time, money in transportation costs, headache and hassle.
Confirming the Agreement: It's not agreed upon until THEY say it is!
After you get a consent to change, reiterate their statement. Repeating it also subconsciously solidifies the change in their mind. Here's the example:
You: "So, Can I get Suzy two hours earlier from her daycare so you don't have to hassle with getting her, allowing you to take that class you wanted?"
Other Parent: "I guess so."
You: "So then, just so I remember this, I will pick up Suzy on Fridays, two hours earlier, from her daycare."
Other Parent: "yeah."
There was the commitment... You have them thinking about what they are going to get out of the deal, not what you are actually gaining!
Of course, you'll want to get all of the agreements down on paper.
Writing the agreement:
It can be as simple as just scrawling it down on a sheet of paper with your names at the top, date and case number.
Write down exactly what you both agreed to, and dont be afraid to put the reasons (the benefits for the other parent) down too. This will solidify the "good deal" for them in their mind.
Rob (your name), will pick up Suzy (child or children's names) from daycare every Friday at 4 (two hours earlier in this example), to provide Linda (the opposing parent's name) with the ability to attend swim classes without rushing and stress. (emotions can be used as tools - who wants stress?)
Signing the Deal
Most opposing parents will want to run back to their lawyers to review the agreement.
Bad move for you.
To help dissuade the other parent from doing this, you can do a number of things, but above all, refrain from confrontation.
- Find out why they arent ready to sign now. Ask them questions that can pin down the "real" reasons.
"Linda, with the obvious benefit of not having to hassle over rushing around to pick up Suzy from daycare and then home to meet me, and then rushing again to try and get to class, what is it really? What's holding you back?"
"I really need to think it over."
- Remove the reason from the equation. You: "So I'll give you time to think it over. I'm going down the hall to the bathroom and then getting a drink of water."
Effectively, you just killed that reason!
- Go for the Commitment again. Keep emphasizing the benefits for them if they agree to sign.
It sounds a lot like professional sales. It really is sales, if you think about it. You are SELLING the other parent on reasons that you should get what you want, instead of selling a product or service.
After the Signatures: Now what?
After both of you sign the paper in agreement, you have the mediator make four copies. One for your case file, one for the judge, one for your records, and one for the other parent. Go directly to the Judge for them to sign and make your agreement an ENFORCABLE order.
This is the most important step in the actual mediation. Without the Judge, the agreement means NOTHING. If the other parent decides not to go along with their agreement, and your agreement IS signed, then you can request enforcement from the court.
You Must also keep in mind, the wellbeing and saftey of your child. They are more important that your convenience, wants and needs. Mediation is FREE! You can suggest mediation as many times as you want. If the other parent is not willing, you can request a "court ordered" mediation.
This is not to be construed as actual legal advice. These are merely suggestions As Always, Consult an Attorney