If your custody case is a tough one, try “co-mediation.”
Mediating custody disputes is a common practice around the country these days. But what about co-mediation? Co-mediation refers to the process of using two mediators at once. It is a controversial idea, but it seems to work in some of the tougher, more difficult child custody cases.
In co-mediation, one of the mediators is usually an attorney, while the other one is usually a mental health professional such as a psychologist, social worker or marriage counselor. In addition to dividing the duties and organizing the process along the lines of their own specialties, co-mediators can engage the parties in the negotiating process collaboratively, each one observing the other and observing the progress being made. Co-mediators can be tremendously helpful in complex cases in which there are more than two parties involved — for example, a three-way custody dispute between a mother, a father, and a grandparent or other family member who has a long history with the children. If one of the parties is sensitive to the sex of the mediator (perhaps she feels a male mediator will side with her husband), then the use of co-mediators of different sexes will usually cure this problem.
Co-mediation is not right for every case. For one thing, it’s likely to be more expensive than using only one mediator. It may raise concerns in some states where the bar association questions the propriety of lawyers partnering with nonlawyers in the mediation process, or where each professional follow different codes of ethics. It may backfire if one mediator takes a legalistic approach and the other takes a contrary therapeutic approach–as if they were working separately without consulting each other. Indeed, the line between mediating, lawyering and providing therapy can get blurry if the co-mediators are not careful to strictly establish and maintain their roles.
In the roughest-and-toughest cases, however, co-mediation may be the way to break new ground and to move the parties toward settlement.