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Child custody and mediation in New York

Most New York residents would agree that a divorce emotionally affects children of the marriage. While spouses usually want to break the marital bond as quickly as possible and move on, children most often want their parents to stay together. With outcomes at odds, family courts across the country, including those in New York, rule in the best interests of the child, usually by ordering one parent to take custody of the child and the other to pay child support.

However, with one parent chosen over the other, child custody disputes may arise. Some spouses may opt to meet with a mediator to resolve all issues pertaining to visitation and child custody disputes. In New York, court mediation is a voluntary process and is free of charge. The task of the mediator is to resolve issues that have been brought before the court by helping couples find common ground for agreement.

The job of the mediator is not to give advice or give orders, but to facilitate a dialogue that will result in an agreement between the parents. Both parents must agree on visitation or child custody issues or rely on the judge to make the decision. In mediation, parents decide the parenting plan, which, after review and approval by the judge, becomes a court order.

Parents need to ask the court for a referral for mediation. Each parent will meet and talk with the mediator in a private session and then the mediator will decide if the case is suitable for mediation. The parent also may have an attorney present when he or she meets with a mediator.

If parents can come to an agreement about child custody or visitation issues, then that agreement is sent to the court for approval. Parents may also decide to stop mediation at any time, if they believe it's not addressing their needs.

Source: New York State Unified Court System, "Custody/Visitation Mediation Program," January 22, 2013

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