Using Mediation to Develop Custody and Parenting Plans

In contrast to litigating child custody and parenting plans, using a neutral and objective mediator can help divorcing parents save time and money, avoid involving the children in drawn out and complicated legal maneuvers that are often upsetting, and give parents more control over the outcome.

Mediation is a process that enables two parents with a dispute to resolve the matter themselves by reaching agreements with the assistance of a mediator. In California, mediation instead of litigation, has been allowed since 1981, and has shown to be highly effective at streamlining a usually cumbersome and contentious process. It is useful for a variety of reasons, including:

Family Courts are overburdened. The ever increasing number of filings has placed heavy burdens on the resources of the court. Parents are being made to wait longer and longer to schedule hearings.

Family Therapists are seeing more cases of people affected by Divorce. Parents and children are requiring psychological help as they struggle to cope with an increasingly difficult and stressful legal process.

“Ozzie & Harriet” families aren’t for everyone. Because of the many different cultural backgrounds of people coming before the court these days, it is increasingly difficult for judges to craft a parenting plan that takes into account varying cultural traditions, needs of work schedules that aren’t 9 to 5, etc.

Government is doing less. Public sector resources have been stretched to the limit and county and state resources are constantly being cut. There is greater pressure to limit the responsibility of government solving social problems. The trend is toward encouraging families to develop their own solutions and help themselves.

Self Determination is still important. People are better off when they can determine for themselves, what direction their lives will take. When parents let judges make important decisions about their parenting plans, they usually feel left out of the process or disappointed in the outcome.


In the beginning of the process, there is often considerable conflict and anger, but the mediator works with the parents to focus on the needs of the children. In states with no-fault divorce, parents don’t usually get to tell their story in the courtroom. Mediation offers them an opportunity to express their feelings about their family and their divorce. By skillful listening and reflecting on the issues of the parents, mediators help convey understanding and help parents try to work out agreements that best for the children and satisfactory to both parents.

In contrast to court hearings which are matters of public record, mediation is confidential and private.


Parents can use mediation to solve simple or single matters or they can develop comprehensive parenting plans that cover the whole spectrum of parenting issues. Parenting plans usually encompass the following:

Legal Custody – defining which parent(s) shall be responsible for making decisions relating to the health, education, and general welfare of the children.

Physical Custody – defining where the children shall reside, and when. This will usually include deciding who will have custody during holidays and school vacation times. It should also spell out the responsibilities of each parent in keeping the other parent notified about school, travel, and health matters.

Published by

Dr. Gnap

Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.  He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”

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