One of the most contentious aspects of a divorce settlement is child custody and visitation rights. It is not uncommon for this to be the one sticking point when it comes to agreeing on a settlement during mediation. An Orange County child custody attorney and divorce mediation specialist can help spouses reach an agreement—even those considered high conflict couples.
What Are High Conflict Couples?
Anyone who has been through a divorce understands that it is not uncommon for anger, resentment, and blame to come between spouses. The difference between ill-feelings brought on by a deteriorating relationship and high conflict is the depth of these emotions.
The entire relationship of a high conflict couple may have been mired in these extreme feelings as well as control and manipulation.
Antagonism and fear lead high conflict couples to desperately wanting the other spouse to pay the price of their betrayal, whether real or imagined. Giving in and compromising, even if in the best interests of the children, can be like a tug of war between rationality and rage.
Intractable disagreements about child custody and the use of verbal aggression or physical coercion to solve these disagreements are signs of a high conflict couple.
Litigation sets the stage for further disruption. Lawyers on either side fight for their client’s rights, expert testimonies portray emotional blackmail or common infidelity, and the battle becomes public record in a court of law. Children become pawns as the legal battle intensifies.
In some cases, a custody battle is not so much about what is best for the children, but the need for personal validation and victory against the other spouse. In these cases, fighting for the children is a matter of manipulation and control.
Our Orange County child custody attorneys, family law specialists, and certified mediators would help you find a better way.
What Are the Best Methods for a Successful Mediation With High Conflict Couples?
An experienced child support lawyer Orange County, should have litigated and mediated countless divorce cases. While many divorce attorneys steer away from mediation in cases with high conflict couples, we’ve found that, with the right methods and tools, successful mediation is possible.
The following are five of the best strategies when it comes to reaching an agreement on child custody, despite a volatile relationship.
1. Pre-Mediation Screening
In child custody disputes with high conflict couples, pre-screening is recommended. This process entails individual interviews and discussions with each party. During the screening, a skilled mediator determines if both spouses will feel safe during the negotiating process and what each client hopes to achieve.
Spouses are counseled on what to expect in the process and the mediator addresses any of their concerns. Rules, such as no interruptions and the impartial nature of the mediator, will be laid out before the first session.
In some cases, a mediator will determine that the mediation process, which normally is conducted in the same room, will need to be carried out separately. This can be achieved with each party located in separate rooms and the mediator going back and forth between the two.
2. Encourage Solutions
Mediators act as impartial facilitators. They cannot make recommendations or decisions. They can point out options and encourage spouses to discover new solutions by employing brainstorming.
A mediator must understand effective negotiating processes and be skilled at defusing escalating conflict and volatile interactions. Understanding the complex needs of a high conflict couple enables a skilled professional to successfully help the couple negotiate the terms of their divorce and child custody agreement.
3. Utilize Caucuses
In mediation, a caucus is a private, confidential meeting with one spouse. This may occur with the mediator or with the party’s attorney or advisor.
The goal is to discuss options in an attempt to find a resolution. They are often used when one party is uncomfortable exploring options in front of the other.
This process allows both parties to clarify issues, review options and proposals, come up with new offers, and think clearly in the absence of the other spouse. The mediator addresses what is to be covered in the caucus and each party is allotted the same amount of time.
A spouse can take the opportunity to diffuse their rising emotions and the mediator can coach the parent on communication practices that will enable them to be heard. As always, mediators must remain neutral and impartial.
All communications are considered confidential, whether in separate rooms or joint mediation.
4. Set Firm Interaction Rules
Without firm rules and guidelines, a mediated session between high conflict couples can turn into another opportunity to fight and place blame. A few of these rules include speaking respectfully, no interruptions, and the use of I instead of You. Parties cannot berate or antagonize each other and blame is left at the door.
A skillful mediator maintains a focused process and does not let either parent get sidetracked into disruptive and unproductive topics. When discussing child custody, the couple remains focused, discussing their requests positively and asking questions to clarify instead of using accusations to defend.
Through the mediation process, a couple learns conflict resolution techniques and positive communication skills that can carry them through a divorce and beyond. While they may be dissolving their marriage, they will always be parents.
Learning effective communication strategies can go along way in producing positive co-parenting, which is much better for the children as well as the ex-spouses.
5. Well-Qualified Professionals
Highly skilled mediators with training in contentious and high conflict divorce cases are essential to the success of mediation and reaching an agreement regarding child custody.
Mediators and a child support lawyer Orange County must be able to recognize and screen for parental alienation syndrome, power issues, domestic violence, and child abuse or emotional trauma.
Not all mediations are successful in high conflict couples and, in some instances, alternative processes may be recommended to shield and protect the abused.
Choose a Skilled Mediator
While hostile spouses may not be transformed into cooperative co-parents, mediation is far less damaging than contentious litigation, particularly to the children. We always put the best interests of the children first.
For a complimentary consultation and to determine if mediation is right for you, contact us at the Law Offices of Hollie A. Lemkin today.