In North Carolina, parents involved in a child custody dispute are required to participate in a mediation settlement conference before having their dispute heard and resolved by a judge. The idea is to encourage parents to reach a mutual agreement with the help of a trained mediator rather than fight it out in court.
When both parties participate in good faith, mediation can be very effective at resolving disputes and saving money on attorney fees. Additional benefits are as follows:
- Reduced acrimony between the parents.
- Custody and visitation agreements that are focused on the child’s best interest.
- Structured, confidential, and non-adversarial setting that can facilitate cooperation and reduce stress and anxiety.
- Reduced likelihood of either party returning to court later because of a dispute about custody or visitation.
Court-ordered mediation may be waived by the judge if any of the following facts exist:
- Allegations of domestic violence.
- Allegations of abuse or neglect of the child.
- Allegations of alcoholism or drug abuse.
- Allegations of severe psychological or emotional problems.
- Either parent lives more than 50 miles from the courthouse.
One of the most important aspects of court-ordered mediation is privacy. Anything said in mediation is protected under the laws of privilege, meaning that nothing said during the mediation conference can be used in court later if the mediation fails. This encourages and allows each parent to freely discuss the issues without fear of hurting their position at a later court hearing.
If an agreement is reached at mediation, the mediator will write it down and present the agreement to the judge in something called a Memorandum of Judgment. If the agreement is reasonable, the judge will sign it and file it as an official order of the court.