You Can Modify a Parenting Plan Without Going to Court Using Mediation to Resolve Co-parenting Disputes

You Can Modify a Parenting Plan Without Going to Court Using Mediation to Resolve Co-parenting Disputes

You’re divorced, child custody was settled, and there is a working parenting plan in place. Life goes on, then changing circumstances affect you and your kids. The good news is that you can modify a parenting plan without going back to court.

Mom Was Moving Out of State

I had the opportunity to help an already divorced couple re-negotiate their parenting plan without having to go back to court and shell out thousands of dollars for litigation.  Here’s how it went down:   The couple, “Ruth” and “Justin” had been divorced for 11 years, sharing custody of their now 13-year-old daughter, “Lexi”.   Their co-parenting of Lexi had its issues; however, Ruth and Justin had been able to compromise most of the time. 

But Ruth recently remarried, and received a job promotion which necessitated relocation across the country.  Both Ruth and her daughter were excited to move to Atlanta.  It was happening just as Lexi was about to start high school and, although she was sad about leaving her friends, she had a good attitude about her new adventure.  So, most of the big decisions had been made:  new house, moving date, school enrollment.  The final remaining stumbling block was obtaining Justin’s permission to move his daughter out of state.

Dad Didn’t Want to Lose Visitation

Understandably, Justin was not immediately on board to consent to his daughter moving 2,500 miles away from him.  His divorce decree and parenting plan prohibited Ruth from taking their minor daughter away from the state for more than seven consecutive days, and Justin was quite adamant about sticking to the plan.   He was also very clear that he was unwilling to lose any of his visitation days with Lexi.

Start by Nailing Down the Issues

When they came to my office for their first mediation session, we quickly identified that there were three issues that needed to be resolved:  permission to move the minor child out of state; modifying the visitation schedule to accommodate the relocation; and who was going to pay for the travel expenses.  Permission to move the minor child required very little discussion.  Although Justin didn’t want his daughter to move across the country, he understood that she would benefit by being in a better school district and, as it turned out, being closer to other members of her extended family.  Permission granted, and onto the next issue:  scheduling.

Baby Steps in Mediation

Everyone took out calendars, and we started talking about school schedules, holidays, vacations, and the complications of air travel.  It was evident to me, as the Mediator, that the parents were becoming overwhelmed.  So, I suggested that we only discuss the upcoming school year.  By limiting the scheduling to nine months rather than five years, both Justin and Ruth visibly relaxed.  After that, it was like trading players on a fantasy football team.  “I’ll take the first week of the winter break and you can have her the second week.”  Or, “I’d prefer that Lexi spend her birthday with me, so she can be with her grandparents.”  You get the picture.

By taking a baby step in mediation, Justin and Ruth were able to focus on establishing a temporary plan, leaving room for flexibility, instead of being forced to follow a Court Order.  Mediation allowed these two parents to focus on the needs of their daughter instead of on their own interests.

Once these two hurdles were overcome, the final issue of who pays for airfare turned out to be relatively easy.  Justin started the negotiation process by offering to pay zero dollars for Lexi’s airfare.  I let them argue for a moment, and then asked Ruth how much she was willing to pay.  Ruth said 50%.  Justin countered back at 1/3, and it was as though the bell signaling the end of the round in a heavyweight fight had been heard.  Ruth agreed to pay 2/3 and they went back to their neutral corners.  The bout had ended, not by knock-out, but by unanimous decision.

A Winning Way to Modify a Parenting Plan

Three issues, three resolutions, two hours total.   I wrote up a document to modify their parenting plan incorporating their decisions; they signed it in front of my Notary, and everyone left feeling like they won.

Mediation Empowers the Parents

You can only imagine how long this might have taken through litigation, not to mention the expense.  And most significant, imagine the risk involved in allowing a Judge to determine what’s best for the family.  A Judge who, although well-intended, has no real knowledge of the family’s dynamic.   By opting to modify a parenting plan through the process of mediation, Justin and Ruth were empowered to craft their own resolution and, in this particular instance, by making a temporary agreement to be revisited later, if necessary.

Naturally, not every divorced couple is a candidate for mediation.  They must come into the process carrying a spirit of cooperation in their pockets.

Mediation After a Bitter Divorce

In another example, “Ben” and “Sara” went through a bitter divorce when their two kids were toddlers.  They each ran up tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees because Ben wanted the divorce and Sara intended to “make him pay.”  And he sure did!

Not only did Ben get his shirt handed to him in Court, but he had minimal visitation with his children and paid the maximum in child support.  They came to me literally 10 years later because circumstances had changed considerably over the decade since their divorce.  The two kids were now teenagers, and were proving to be more than Sara was willing or able to handle.  Not only did Ben want more time with his kids, the kids wanted to live with their dad permanently.

Modify a Parenting Plan to Change Primary Custody

Through the process of mediation, it came out that neither of the teenagers liked Sara’s live-in boyfriend.  And the boyfriend was, evidently, jealous of the attention Sara gave to her own children.  The living situation in Sara’s home was full of conflict, and neither of the kids was happy.   Enough time had passed for Sara to get over her bitterness towards Ben, and both parents were ready to make some changes.  So, they hammered out a new parenting plan, modifying everything including primary physical custody, and child support.  Again, I prepared a written document for them to sign which set forth all of the modifications.

Mediation Reduced Court Appearances and Costs

In Ben and Sara’s instance, a brief amount of attorney involvement was necessary.  Once they signed the agreement I prepared after mediation, Ben’s attorney drafted the necessary paperwork to submit to the Court showing that the parties changed the prior Court Order through the process of mediation.  The fact that a Mediator prepared an agreement reflecting the desires of the parties, and that agreement bore the parties’ signatures, all but guaranteed that the Judge would approve the modification.  In less than a month, Ben and Sara received the Court’s blessing by way of an Order modifying their divorce decree to afford Ben primary physical custody of their teenagers, and considerably reducing the child support payments.

How Mediation Can Work For You

There are many more examples of how mediation can be an effective way of modifying prior Court Orders without the need for expensive and time-consuming litigation.  The one common thread in every such situation is the spirit of compromise.  If you aren’t willing to be flexible, mediation is not for you.  But, if enough time has passed, if you’re willing to put the greater good ahead of your need to be right, if you value your future more than you need to validate your past, I highly urge you to consider mediation.

How to suggest mediation to your ex?  Easy.  Just tell her that you’ve been looking into mediation as an alternative method to litigation, and that mediation is confidential, expedient, and costs a fraction of what attorneys charge.

Finding a Capable Mediator

There are many places to look for a capable Mediator.  When doing so, it’s important to keep in mind that not all Mediators are attorneys, and not all attorneys are Mediators.  I’d suggest that you and your ex interview at least two candidates, check for reviews on Yelp (yes, Yelp), sniff around LinkedIn, and go to subscription services such as Mediate.com.  Most Mediators will offer an initial consultation at no charge.  Then, trust your instincts.  You won’t be disappointed.

Nancy Gabriel is the principal and managing partner of Mediation Around The Table, LLC., a Las Vegas-based private mediation company.  Ms. Gabriel is a founding director of Nevada Mediation Group, a non-profit corporation focusing on the education and training of mediators, a volunteer for the Neighborhood Justice Center of Clark County, Nevada, a member of the divorce panel for MWI, a Boston, Massachusetts firm specializing in alternative dispute resolutions, and a volunteer at Three Square Food Bank.  She is a graduate of UCLA, an avid gourmet cook and NFL fan. She may be contacted through the firm website at www.MediationAroundTheTable.com

3 Benefits to Ending Your Marriage with Divorce Mediation Why You Should Consider an Alternative to Costly Litigation

3 Benefits to Ending Your Marriage with Divorce Mediation Why You Should Consider an Alternative to Costly Litigation

Think you’re stuck shelling out thousands of dollars to retain an attorney? Well, you’re not. Are you concerned about the risk of allowing a judge to decide what’s best for you and your family?  Well, it doesn’t have to play out that way. Simply stated, there is an alternative:  Divorce Mediation.

You May Be a Candidate for Divorce Mediation

If you and your soon-to-be-ex can be in the same room with each other for an hour, you’re a great candidate to end your marriage through mediation.

A Mediator is a neutral third party who’s trained to help the two of you navigate through the process of ending your relationship in an expedient, dignified and confidential manner, at a fraction of the cost of hiring an attorney.

Valuable Benefits of Divorce Mediation

There are many benefits to choosing divorce mediation.  Here are three of the more significant advantages.

The first benefit of divorce mediation is FREEDOM. 

  • Freedom to make your own choices about the end of your relationship
  • Freedom to use resources the way you want
  • Freedom from having to look back on this chapter of your life with regret or remorse
  • Freedom to move on with your life and enjoy all that the future can be for you
  • Freedom to make your divorce work better than your marriage
  • Freedom to parent your children in the best possible way
  • Freedom from burdensome legal fees

The second benefit of divorce mediation is FAIRNESS.

  • You will meet with a professional mediator who is unbiased, neutral, impartial and non-judgmental. Clients determine their own standard of fairness based on their unique needs.
  • You will be treated fairly and equitably while achieving justice in the process
  • You will avoid the harsh judgments of others
  • You, not the courts, attorneys, or judges, determine your own definition of fairness
  • Those with children will have a role in determining a fair outcome that is in the best interest of your family

The third benefit of divorce mediation is PRIVACY.

  • Your mediation is held in a private, confidential office setting resulting in a private written agreement. Your privacy is maintained through the confidential mediation process.
  • Unlike open court, the mediation process is not a matter of public record
  • You will not be embarrassed or ashamed about personal matters that might be discussed
  • Your friends, relatives and strangers will only know what you decide to tell them
  • You will have a higher rate of compliance since you each contributed to and agreed to how you want to end the relationship

A Civil and Cost-effective Alternative

Divorce mediation is not appropriate when there is a history of domestic abuse, or if one of the parties refuses to cooperate. For couples that agree to divorce, and want to end the marriage in a civil and cost-effective manner, divorce mediation provides a dignified, economical and extremely viable alternative to the hostility of divorce litigation.

nancy-gabriel-picNancy Gabriel is the principal and managing partner of Mediation Around The Table, LLC., a Las Vegas-based private mediation company.  Ms. Gabriel is a founding director of Nevada Mediation Group, a non-profit corporation focusing on the education and training of mediators, a volunteer for the Neighborhood Justice Center of Clark County, Nevada, a member of the divorce panel for MWI, a Boston, Massachusetts firm specializing in alternative dispute resolutions, and a volunteer at Three Square Food Bank.  She is a graduate of UCLA, an avid gourmet cook and NFL fan. She may be contacted through the firm website at www.MediationAroundTheTable.com


(c) Can Stock Photo / designer491

Working With Your Lawyer or Mediator Working with your lawyer or mediator can have a significant impact on your divorce settlement

Working With Your Lawyer or Mediator Working with your lawyer or mediator can have a significant impact on your divorce settlement

When you decide to seek legal counsel and pursue a divorce it’s important to realize that how you are working with your lawyer or mediator can significantly impact your litigation experience and your final settlement. This is good news because it puts some power over the divorce process under your control. By cultivating a good working relationship, you can increase the odds of a positive outcome and reduce your anxiety. Be sure to take your time in hiring a lawyer to represent you because you are entering into a partnership that will last throughout your divorce process and will have an enormous impact upon the final judgment. The key to an effective partnership with your lawyer is to have confidence in their ability to get you the results you want while managing the relationship so you incur only the minimum amount of legal costs necessary. There are many strategies which will help you keep billable hours down while maintaining a lawyer-client relationship that will give you the best shot at a satisfying settlement.

5 Tips to Keep Billable Hours to a Minimum

  1. Work with your attorney by providing necessary information when you can. The less time he or she has to spend tracking down records the cheaper it will be for you.
  2. Figure out the worth of your assets. If you can find out and document the full financial picture of your marital estate you will save your lawyer time—which will save you money.
  3. Increase your understanding of the divorce process. Knowledge is power and the more you know the more you can help yourself.
  4. Keep your lawyer informed with as accurate information as possible. The better the information you give your attorney the more they will understand the situation and be able to develop a winning strategy. When in doubt, go with providing full disclosure. Don’t worry, lawyers are trained to sift through information and evaluate what is useful and what is not. Also, if the information might harm your case, you can prevent your lawyer from being blindsided, giving him or her plenty of time to prepare defensive maneuvers.
  5. Respond promptly to your lawyer’s requests. Again, time is money so don’t drag out the process by keeping your lawyer waiting on you to provide needed information. Lawyers are often under very tight deadlines and the more lead time you give your lawyer to go over the materials the better job they can do in preparing for your case. Another good tip is to stick to answering only the questions your lawyer asks and doing so completely but concisely. If your lawyer needs a “yes” or “no” answer on something or a quick synopsis of a situation don’t include a long, verbose document that gives extra information. If you bog down your lawyer with useless information they will have to bill you for the time they waste going through materials that are not relevant to what they need to represent your case.

5 Things Your Lawyer Needs to Know

Be prepared with the following information to grease the wheels and get your case moving:

  1. The reason you are getting a divorce. This includes: Causes of your breakup, the reasons behind your filing for divorce and the major issues of the failing marriage.
  2. Personal information for yourself, your spouse and your children. This includes: Names, ages, places of birth, home and work addresses and telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, and health information.
  3. Facts related to your marriage. This includes: When and where you were married, any prenuptial agreement (If so, bring a copy of the agreement with you), previous marriages (If so, provide details of your previous divorce(s)).
  4. Any issues involving your children. This includes: Custody arrangements, co-parenting agreements, special needs, etc.
  5. Financial information. This includes: Assets and debts each of you brought into the marriage, your incomes and expenses, employment information, shared property (e.g. home, cars), shared debts (e.g. mortgage, college fund for the kids) and investments (e.g. insurance plans, pension plans).
  6. Legal documents. This includes: copies of lawsuits, bankruptcy suits, judgments, and garnishments.
  7. Your divorce goals. Be specific about what you want from the divorce. Think beyond your current emotional state to long-term goals that include how you will co-parent children (if any) and continue to function as a family post-divorce. Think about the relationship you want with your ex and kids in one year, in 5 years and then 10 years into the future.

3 Things to Remember

  1. Your lawyer is not your psychologist. Do not expect your attorney to be on call 24 hours a day or to listen to you rant about the latest injustice you’ve suffered at the hands of your spouse during an acrimonious divorce. Every time your lawyer takes a phone call or returns an email you are racking up an hourly rate. Call a friend or get an actual therapist and you will save money and keep your lawyer focused on what really matters—the facts of the case.
  2. If your lawyer is giving you advice you disagree with, keep an open mind and consider the guidance carefully. Your lawyer isn’t concerned with your desire for revenge but with getting you the best possible outcome, so take a step back and evaluate whether you’re refusing your lawyer’s advice for purely emotional reasons. Don’t let your settlement suffer because you can’t see past your immediate feelings. You will end up suffering long-term consequences for temporary emotional satisfaction.
  3. You will likely go through periods of frustration or disappointment as your divorce progresses, but don’t take it out on your lawyer. Some things will be out of his or her control. Remember that your attorney is on your side and it’s best to tackle the rough patches as a team. Staying positive and on good terms is your best bet at getting your lawyer or mediator to work their hardest for your case.

While you are expecting the most from your lawyer—that he or she is skilled, hard-working and dedicated to fighting for your case—your lawyer is hoping you’ll be the ideal client: calm, professional, well prepared and easy to get along with.

When a competent client and a capable lawyer team up and work well together, the odds are greatly increased for a good outcome. Hold your attorney to task in putting in the effort your case requires, but do yourself a favor by being a client that makes their job easier and more effective. The ideal client can control his emotions and focus on the logical facts of the case, is organized and prepared, treats his lawyer as a valuable teammate, and is willing to listen to his lawyer’s advice – even if he doesn’t follow it all the time.

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