Child visitation issues can arise when parents, whether married or unwed, decide to end their relationship. Courts, guardian ad litems, attorneys, experts and lay witnesses can all affect a child’s future relationship with his or her parents. While most are motivated by what is in the best interest of the child, parents can make visitation arrangements more child- and family-centered through less adversarial means, such as mediation.

Considering the fact that about half of marriages end in divorce and 40 percent of our nation’s children are born outside of marriage, understanding and protecting parental rights to visitation can be complicated, but obtaining visitation rights does not have to be a painful experience.

Mediation has long been an effective alternative in resolving child custody matters. California family and juvenile courts generally mandate that parents attempt to resolve visitation disputes using this form of informal alternative dispute resolution.

In child visitation mediation, a neutral third party sits with parents to discuss various issues related to their child and work out an agreement regarding the child’s contact with the noncustodial parent. Everything from weekend overnights, holidays, phone contact, weekday dinners and even summer vacations are considered during a mediation session. Details such as who picks up the child and who is authorized to transport the child can also be considered. Even grandparent visits and special events can be addressed.

The role of the mediator is not to manipulate outcomes but to help parents work together in making a decision about their child’s future relationship with his or her parents. Mediated agreements are not boilerplate clauses thrown together but a personalized agreement designed to encourage positive, lasting relationships between parents and their children. These agreements are meant to serve the best interests of the child and preserve the rights of the parents while the family is experiencing major change.

Mediation has worked for many families. But, if mediation fails, it’s generally because of unrealistic demands, unfair self-interests, a party’s bad faith, and even the lack of enforceability of some aspects of the agreement. The alternatives when mediation fails are costly, time-consuming and more stressful. A court trial leaves your family’s future in the hands of legal professionals rather than in yours.