Your divorce doesn’t have to be as contentious as you think. In fact, many divorces resolve through divorce mediation, meaning that the parties don’t have to litigate the facts of their marriage before a judge. This can save you a significant amount of time, money, and effort. But that isn’t to say that you can forego preparing your divorce case simply because you aren’t heading to court. In fact, you need to be just as prepared for your divorce mediation as you do for litigation.
This is especially true when it comes to mediating your child custody arrangement. Before sitting down at the negotiating table, you need to understand the best interests standard and how it applies to your set of circumstances. Let’s take a closer look at this issue.
The best interests of the child standard
In the midst of divorce, it can be easy to get tangled up in the emotions of your failed marriage. But when discussing child custody and visitation, the focus really needs to be on your child. After all, when a court assesses a child custody dispute, it’s going to make a determination that it thinks will support the child’s best interests. When making this determination, the court will look to a number of factors, including each of the following:
- The financial stability of the parents
- The physical and mental health of the parents
- The child’s specific needs
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- The educational opportunities available to the child with each parent
- Each parent’s willingness and ability to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent
- The child’s wishes, if he or she is of a certain age
- Any history of substance abuse
- Any history of domestic violence
Any one of these factors could have a profound impact on your child custody determination, but it’s important to note that state law allows the court to also consider any other factor that it deems relevant to its consideration of the matter. This gives the court a lot of latitude when issuing a child custody order.
What does this mean for you?
Even if you want to avoid going to court, you should still address these best interest factors and be prepared to discuss them at your mediation. Therefore, you should know what evidence you have that can speak to each of those factors and how they play to your favor. This may mean discussing issues that occurred during your marriage or even gathering criminal, medical, and mental health records. Having your child speak with a mental health professional or a child custody evaluator may be beneficial, too.
If the factors don’t really tip the scale one way or the other, then you might want to consider a joint custody arrangement with liberal visitation. The great thing about divorce mediation is that you retain control over what that arrangement looks like instead of leaving that decision in the hands of a judge who knows nothing about your family other than the evidence presented to him or her.
Protect your child’s best interests and your relationship with him or her
We know that you’re going through a stressful time in your life, and the thought of losing any amount of contact with your child is heartbreaking. But you can get through this while maintaining a strong relationship with your child. You just have to know how to be open and communicative while also advocating for what you think is right.