In Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, all parents involved in a child custody dispute are required to participate in Child Custody Mediation and Parent Education. Child Custody Mediation is a free, court-provided mediation service in which a court-appointed mediator tries to help the parents resolve their child custody case without having to go to trial.
Once a child custody case is filed with the Court, an Order to Attend Parent Education and Custody Mediation can be entered upon request of either party. This Order contains the date both parents will attend a Custody Mediation Orientation and the date by which both parents must complete the Parent Education Course. At Custody Mediation, the parties will learn about the rules of the mediation process and select a date to return for the actual mediation.
Completion of Custody Mediation is an important step in any child custody case. Most importantly, except under emergency or exigent circumstances, the Court will not place a claim for child custody on the trial calendar until Custody Mediation is completed. Because of the large number of custody cases, the Court requires some form of mediation be completed before trial dates are assigned, as many child custody cases are settled during the mediation process. This drastically reduces the number of potential trials the Court would otherwise be forced to hear.
This rule, of course, has exceptions. Parents may ask the Court to waive attendance at Custody Mediation. One common reason and proper justification for waiver of Custody Mediation is that the parties intend to fulfill their requirement to attend some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution by attending private mediation. At private mediation, the parties and their attorneys meet with a private mediator in an attempt to resolve Child Custody and any other issues pending such as Child Custody, Child Support, Equitable Distribution, and Alimony. If parties attend private mediation, they can request that the Court waive their requirement to attend the court-provided Custody Mediation.
Either parent can also ask that Custody Mediation be waived if attending would cause undue hardship, if “there are allegations of abuse or neglect of the minor child,” if “there are allegations of alcoholism, drug abuse, or domestic abuse,” or “if there are allegations of severe psychological, psychiatric, or emotional problems.” These waivers assume that reasonable parents would be unlikely to reach a child custody agreement at Custody Mediation due to safety concerns for the child. Parents can also seek a waiver if either resides more than fifty miles from Mecklenburg County. In such a case it would obviously not be practical to require Custody Mediation and/or Parent Education.
Once Custody Mediation is waived by the Court, the child custody case can be placed on the next available calendar to schedule trial.
To speak with someone about your Child Custody case and your obligation to attend Child Custody Mediation, contact us today at (704) 810-1400 to schedule a private consultation with one of our attorneys.