If you are posturing for, or in the middle of a custody dispute, try mediation. This is especially true if you are the parent who thinks he or she may end up as the non-residential parent (non-primary custodian). As a non-residential parent, your odds of building a strong and long-lasting relationship with your children -- by being a part of their lives while they are growing up -- is much greater if you opt for mediation over litigation.
Dr. Robert Emery, author of the highly acclaimed book, The Truth About Children & Divorce, conducted a 12-year study which supported this claim. Dr. Emery followed numerous families, who were all involved in high conflict custody disputes, for a 12-year period of time (commencing from their divorce settlement negotiations, through their divorce and for the remainder of time that they were raising children as co-parents). Those families were randomly assigned either a mediator or a lawyer for the resolution of their case. Dr. Emery made two very interesting findings: In cases where custody disputes were mediated versus litigated, the non-residential parents saw their children, on a weekly basis, at least 19% more than their litigation counterparts (28% versus 9%) and spoke on the phone with them, on a weekly basis, at least 38% more (52% versus 14%).
Dr. Emery’s study also found that non-residential parents scored much higher in many areas -- including discipline, grooming, religious and moral training, running errands, celebrating holidays, taking part in significant events, school and church activities, recreation, vacations, and problem solving as related to their children -- when scored by the residential parent (primary custodian) where custody disputes were mediated. What does that matter? Tons.
The primary custodian of your child is, obviously, in a position of tremendous influence over that child. This often includes the child’s beliefs and feelings about the other parent. With poorly developed communication skills and negative feelings between the parents (both of which are matters that mediation tries to remedy), this is often a recipe for disaster -- at least in terms of building parent-child relationships with the non-custodial parent.
Good communication skills and a positive relationship between co-parents, however, tend to help build the bond between the non-custodial parent and child. How does mediation fit in? The process of mediation helps parents focus on their children and not on each other. Good mediators are able to encourage parents to respect one another (as much as possible) and support each other as parents. After all, most experts agree that children deserve and have the right, when at all possible, to have two involved parents in their lives. It helps them become stronger adults.
You only have one shot to raise your kids. Mediation helps you sort through the issues and make good choices for your children in your new life as a two-home family.