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How to Win Child Custody, Parenting Time or Divorce Mediation (winning child custody strategy)

By Teo Spengler - Updated December 04, 2018
A mediator works with a couple

Winning means different things in different contexts. Winning a race is simple: the first runner to cross the finish line wins, and this usually requires exceptional skill and lots of practice. Winning the lottery is slightly different because luck is the key element and neither skill nor practice has anything to do with holding the pay-off ticket. But winning when it comes to a child custody mediation has nothing to do with luck, skill or practice, nor can you take your victory to the bank.

A successful divorce mediation regarding child custody is one in which parents put the best interests of the child first.

Changing Child Custody

It used to be that when parents divorced, one (usually the mother) was awarded physical custody. The kids lived with her, while the other (usually the father) was awarded a limited period of visitation. That was because, in yesteryear, many mothers stayed at home to take care of the children while most fathers went to work and brought home the bacon.

Both spouses often hold down jobs in modern times, and the court system has begun to recognize the importance to children of having significant time with each parent after a divorce. Many courts now talk in terms of "parenting time," a schedule that divides time between the parents as their schedules permit. This eliminates the idea of winners and losers in a custody battle and it moves a custody determination more toward the court's standard of making decisions based on the best interests of the child.

Putting a Child's Interests First

When family law judges make custody rulings and decide other divorce issues that involve a child, they are not given total discretion to rule as they like. Most states mandate that the judge put the child's interests first – that is, courts make custody decisions based the best interests of the child. In most cases, a court finds that it is in the child's best interest to spend substantial time with both parents after a divorce, and the court will make custody or parenting time decisions based on that.

This is also a standard that a responsible parent will keep in mind when determining what custody order to request. Although it's natural to believe that your child needs you more than his other parent, it's usually best for your child to have significant interaction with both of you. This is true even if your former spouse was unfaithful or had other character flaws that made your marriage impossible. A parental relationship is different than a spousal relationship, and a person can be a lousy spouse but a good-enough parent.

Child Custody Mediation

A child custody mediation is not like a trial in which a judge hears arguments and then makes a decision. Instead, a mediator tries to facilitate an amicable resolution of the case. Her job is not to hear and decide, but rather to make sure that each parent has a chance to talk about issues of disagreement with the other. A mediator is a neutral party who knows family law and will remind each parent of the laws.

How to win at a child custody mediation? You win by acting civil to the other parent, presenting your arguments clearly and calmly, and listening hard. If you have evidence that the other parent truly is not fit to spend unsupervised time with your child, like drug addiction or child abuse, present them in mediation. But do not exaggerate or prevaricate to try to "win" custody. If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan in mediation, the court will hear the same evidence and make its own ruling.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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