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During a divorce, one of the most challenging issues to settle is child custody. Both parents love and want the best for their children while also wanting to spend more time with them. On top of this, there are often disagreements about parenting and how to raise the children, and these all often combine to turn the matter into a contentious issue that can be traumatizing for all involved, including the children.
Part of the process of settling child custody agreements is the custody settlement conference. This seeks to prevent the fighting and drawn-out courtroom battle and allow parents to create an arrangement on their own. This not only avoids having to rely on a judge to create a custody agreement, but the parents are also able to work out an arrangement that is beneficial to everyone in the family.
So, what happens during a custody conference? Our child custody attorneys in Raleigh are breaking down what happens, what to expect, and how you can best prepare.
What Happens During Your Custody Conference
The goal of the custody settlement conference is to reach a custody agreement without having to have a hearing in front of a judge. Even if you and the other parent can't completely agree, you can possibly create the foundation of your arrangement, allowing the judge to settle some of the finer points, such as travel arrangements and vacation time. In North Carolina, a mediated settlement conference is mandatory for parents to attend if they can't agree though exceptions may be granted by a judge.
A settlement conference involves both parties sitting down with their attorneys all together at an office or neutral location to create a custody agreement and finalize it.
Mediated Settlement Conference
A mediated settlement conference involves working with a professional mediator who meets with both parents and their attorneys to create a negotiated arrangement. Often, spouses are in separate rooms with the mediator going back and forth between them, moving ground inch by inch.
What You Can Expect During a Settlement Conference
If you are choosing a settlement conference in which both parties meet together with their attorneys, you can typically expect a longer meeting giving you ample time to nail down every aspect of the custody arrangement including:
- Living arrangements, like whether a parent's moving would affect custody or the child's education.
- Division of time spent with each parent;
- Transportation to one another's homes, to school, and extracurricular activities;
- How holidays will be divided;
- Issues of legal custody, including religious upbringing, education, and healthcare.
- Agreeing on child support payments
The goal at the end of the meeting is to have a complete, comprehensive consent order that both parents are happy with and that will provide the best quality of life for their children.
Mediated Settlement Conference
Mediated settlement conferences are a bit different in that you will be in a room with your attorney while your spouse and their attorney will be separate. As we mentioned above, the mediator will go back and forth between the two parties, discussing the matters listed above. However, instead of both parents discussing the issues, while their attorneys offer counsel and keep the discussion on track, the mediator often has to relay information, play devil's advocate, and focus on reaching some type of compromise. However, the end result is the same - a comprehensive custody arrangement that suits both parties.
How to Prepare for Your Settlement Conference
It's normal to feel anxious or worried before your settlement conference, but proper preparation will help you go in with confidence.
Consider What's Best for Your Child
Above all else, consider what's best for your child. For example, if you want full custody, but in doing so, your child would have to leave a school district, would that be best? Would that be compatible with your work schedule? Similarly, consider how their extracurricular activities, social activities, and access to family would be affected by what you have in mind. Write down your ideal custody arrangement based on what's best for them and also what works for you.
What Are Your Non-Negotiables?
There are certain things that you may not be willing to compromise on, such as wanting to spend Christmas morning with your child or taking your child to church on Sunday mornings. Write down what you absolutely want from your custody arrangement, and also consider how you can compromise to obtain them. For example, if you want to spend Christmas morning with your child, perhaps the other parent could pick them up at noon to spend the rest of the day with them. If church on Sundays is your goal, make a weekday concession so the other parent still has ample time.
Remember that not everything can be a non-negotiable issue, and there may still be compromise involved, even in your highest priority issues.
What Are Your Goals for the Conference?
While the main goal is having a fully agreed-upon custody arrangement, what would you specifically like to walk out of the room with? This goes hand in hand with your "non-negotiables" and it's important to write them down so you don't get caught up in minutiae during the negotiations.
Discuss Everything with Your Attorney Before the Conference
Make sure you discuss your goals and other factors with your attorney before the conference. They will be able to advocate on your behalf when they know exactly what you want, and they will help you compromise in a way that helps you reach those goals.
Schedule a Consultation with Our Custody Attorneys Today
If you are going through a divorce and need an experienced child custody attorney who will work with you to help you have a successful child custody settlement conference, reach out to The Doyle Law Group, P.A. We provide comprehensive family law services and will represent you during your divorce and through the custody and support negotiations. To learn more, fill out the form below to discuss how we can help you settle your case or call us toll-free at (919) 301-8843.