What to Ask for in a Child Custody Mediation

More and more families are turning to mediation to settle child custody disputes. During the mediation, a mediator will help the parents develop and agree to a parenting plan. 

This article will outline what a parent should ask for during the mediation. By the end of this article, you will understand the following:

  • What is mediation?

  •  What is a parenting plan?

  •  What are the things you should ask for during the mediation?

What is Mediation?

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method with a neutral person helping the parties find a solution to their dispute. Since mediation is less rigid than going to court, it allows for creative settlement techniques that would not be allowed during a trial. 

Mediators are generally very experienced attorneys or retired judges. Parents should go into the mediation with an open mind and listen to what the mediator recommends. Remember, mediators are typically very skilled lawyers who have been specifically trained to help parents reach a parenting plan that the parents can agree to and is in the children’s best interest. 

Mediation is a beneficial tool for settling cases. Personally, about 90% of my client’s cases settle during mediation. 

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a written agreement that sets forth how parents will raise their children after a divorce. 

You can reduce the stress of co-parenting after a divorce by thinking ahead to potential future challenges. Every major parenting decision should be addressed in the parenting plan. 

Creating a parenting plan is like creating a guide for you and the other parent. The plan will guide the parents in decision-making as the children age.

Future co-parenting-related conflict may be greatly reduced with a carefully thought-out parenting plan.

What You Should Ask for at a Child Custody Mediation

Numerous things should be asked for during a child custody mediation. Here is a list to get you started.

  • Who is going to get legal custody of the child?

  •  What will the visitation schedule be?

  •  How are holidays going to be divided?

  •  How are birthdays and other special occasions going to be divided?

  •  How to divide school holidays, vacations, and sick days?

  •  How to handle custody transitions and travel expenses?

  •  How to handle disciplining the child?

  • Who will be responsible for making decisions about the child regarding education, health, and other significant matters?

  • Who owes Child Support, and how much?

  • How will the parents communicate with each other and the child?

Who Will Have Custody of the child?

The first question to ask at a child custody mediation is which parent is going to have custody of the child. There are two types of child custody, physical custody, and legal custody. A parent will need to understand the difference to know what to ask for at the mediation.

Legal Custody

Legal custody involves having legal responsibility for a child. This includes the right and responsibility to make major decisions regarding the child’s medical care, religious beliefs, and education. Legal custody is divided into two separate categories: sole legal custody and joint legal custody.

Physical Custody

The parent with physical custody of the child is the parent with whom the child resides most of the time. A parent with physical custody is responsible for the physical care and supervision of the child.

Physical custody of the child is usually defined as sole or joint custody.

Sole Custody

Sole custody is a parenting situation where one parent has sole legal and physical custody of a child. Sole custody usually occurs when one parent is deemed unfit to have custody or make decisions for the child.

Sole legal custody is rare. It usually happens in cases of abuse or neglect of the child or in a situation where a parent is struggling with drug or alcohol dependency. 

Joint Custody

Joint custody is a parenting arrangement parents where each parent has equal control over and responsibility for a child. Joint custody can involve both legal custody and physical custody.

Joint legal custody means both parents are responsible for making major decisions regarding the welfare of the child, including decisions on medical, education, and religion.

Joint physical custody means the parents share physical custody of the child. This could mean sharing the child 50-50, but each joint custody plan can vary depending on the child’s age and the parent’s situation.

In most divorce situations, the parents agree to joint legal custody, where both parents are involved in their child’s major life decisions, along with some form of joint custody. When joint legal and joint physical custody is agreed to, the parents will need to work out a parenting schedule.

What to Place in the Parenting Plan

A parenting plan sets the visitation schedule for the parents and children. Visitation is the time the child spends with the noncustodial parent. Creating a visitation schedule can be difficult. Each parent should bring their calendar with them.

When putting together the parenting plan, parents will need to consider their own work schedule, along with the child’s school and extracurricular activities schedule.

A parent should have a plan for how the child will divide time between the parents. Most courts encourage parents to split time equally. This, of course, will depend on the age of the children. The custody arrangement that works for a baby might not work when the child is a teenager.

At different periods of development, a child may require a different custody arrangement. All of this should be considered when coming to a determination of what you will ask for at the mediation regarding visitation and the parenting plan.

Transitions and Drop-Off Locations

When determining what to ask for at mediation, you need to consider who will drive the child to the visit and where the drop-off will take place.

Exchanging custody typically goes smother when the parents have agreed to this ahead of time. Parents should consider whether they will meet at a neutral location (if the parents are not getting along well) or if the exchange will take place at the other parent’s home. There is no right or wrong decision. Just work towards creating a parenting plan that will work for both parents and is best for the child.


Another important item parents should ask at mediation is how holidays will be divided. Consider which family holidays are most important to you. Keep those holidays in mind during the negotiations.

Alternating holidays is one of the most typical ways divorced parents divide holiday parenting time. For instance, for Christmas in odd years, one parent might get the child. On Christmas, in years with even numbers, the other parent gets the child. This parenting plan is common. It enables each parent to maintain primary physical custody of the child over a few significant holidays each year.

Another approach for parents to create a holiday custody plan is to assign certain holidays to each parent. It’s possible that one parent is Jewish and the other Christian. The Jewish parent may ask to have Hanukkah permanently designated to them in this circumstance. In this way, the child can celebrate Hanukkah with that parent every year. The child can also celebrate Christmas with the other parent every year.

Parents who live by each other might choose to split equal time during the holidays with their children. This enables both parents to spend some time with their child on each vacation. For Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, one parent might have custody of the child. For the second half of Christmas day, the other parent gets custody of the child. When both parents are on board and reside nearby, this approach usually works well.

What to do with School Holidays and Vacations

One of the things parents will want to ask about during mediation is how they are going to divide school holidays and vacations. A typical holiday schedule will give primary custody to one of the parents and give extended periods of time to the other parent. A typical summer vacation agreement might look something like this:

Each calendar month, the Father shall be allowed one four-day weekend with the children. These short, four-day vacations are intended to allow the Father to visit the children where the children reside with the Mother, and these short vacations must not interfere with the children’s school attendance. In addition to these four-day vacations, the Father shall be entitled to eight consecutive weeks of vacation with the children each summer. The Father may take these longer, eight-week vacations in locations outside of his home state.

Every year the Mother shall be entitled to vacation with the children for a total of two weeks, which may be taken consecutively or at two one-week intervals. Each party must schedule his or her vacation time with at least thirty days written notice to the other parent. 

The party receiving the notice shall have no more than fifteen days in which to respond by claiming the same day(s) of vacation, not excluding the requirement that such response must be made at least thirty days in advance of the vacation date(s) in question. If each party claims the same vacation day(s), the Mother’s vacation request(s) shall govern in even-numbered years, and the Father’s vacation request(s) shall govern in odd-numbered years.

It shall be presumed that the mother is in contempt of court for the mother to take any action which would preclude the father from vacation with the children over Father’s Day weekend or the several days immediately preceding or following. 

Similarly, it shall be presumed contemptuous for the father to take any action which would preclude the mother from vacationing with the children over Mother’s Day weekend or the several days immediately preceding or following.

How Will the Parents Handle Child Discipline?

A parent will want to ask for an agreed-upon approach to child discipline after the divorce. Each parent should agree on expectations on how the child is to be disciplined. Take time during the mediation to discuss this and how parents will agree on handling mistakes made by the child.

How Will the Parents Handle Health Care Decisions?

A parent should ask about how parents will handle their child’s major medical decisions. An agreement should be reached on who will be responsible for making the major medical decisions.

The agreement should also cover health insurance costs and who is going to be responsible for those. The agreement should also cover how to handle medical expenses that will not be covered by insurance.

How Will the Parents Handle the Child’s Education?

Parents should give consideration to who will take the primary role in the child’s education or whether this will be a shared responsibility. Parents should discuss whether the child will attend public or private school and who will pay for the school.

Attention should be given to paying for back-to-school clothes and supplies. Further, the parents should reach an agreement on attendance at parent-teacher conferences and extracurricular activities.

The parents should agree on expectations on grades and homework and how to handle those situations if the child is not meeting expectations.

How is Child Support Going to be Handled?

Parents need to be prepared to ask about child support. To come to an agreement on child support, parents will need to provide evidence of their income and expenses.

Child support should include an agreement on other child-related expenses, such as child care, educational expense, medical expenses, and extracurricular activities.

Parents should agree on the amount of money the noncustodial parent will pay, along with the details of when and how the payments will be made.

What to Do if the Parents Can’t Agree in the Future?

As part of the mediation process, you will want to consider future disputes. What will the parents do if they cannot agree on an issue in the future? A parenting plan should include a way for parents to settle disagreements if they can’t agree in the future.

Many parenting plans require mediation prior to a parent filing a motion with the court if a disagreement arises that cannot be worked out.

How Will the Parents Communicate with Each Other?

The final thing a parent should consider asking about during mediation is future communication. The parenting plan should cover how the parents will communicate. Is it to be by phone, text, or in person? The plan should have some level of flexibility, but if the parents are having any difficulty getting along, the parenting plan should address this.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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