November 14th, 2022

How to Prepare for Child Custody Mediation in Washington State


Movin through the divorce process is an inherently emotional and complicated life transition. As you engage in difficult conversations and negotiations to ensure you will walk away from your marriage with the stability and resources you need to enjoy a bright future, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and even anxious. This process can become even more stressful and fraught when children are involved. Fortunately, Washington state requires divorcing parents to participate in mediation, a private process in which the parties can negotiate and resolve child custody issues on their own terms. Unlike a judge, the mediator serves as a neutral third party who facilitates these difficult conversations and encourages the parties to arrive at a collaborative resolution together. Below are some helpful tips for preparing for an upcoming child custody mediation in the greater Seattle area.

Understanding How Mediation Works

Mediation is a form of “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) that allows parties to resolve a legal dispute outside the traditional court system. Instead of each party making their case before a judge, who then issues a final ruling on the matter, a neutral mediator guides the parties through negotiations and empowers them to reach a mutually acceptable outcome. Mediators understand how to keep the parties focused on the big picture—arriving at a resolution that works for them both. Mediation tends to be faster, cheaper, less adversarial, and more confidential than the traditional courtroom process. Those who participate in mediation often report deeper and more lasting feelings of satisfaction than those whose case is overseen by a judge. The active participation of each party during mediation gives the individuals far more control over the outcome.

Preparing for Child Custody Mediation in Washington

Mediation offers a safe and calming environment where parents can negotiate child custody matters. Instead of moving through a stressful, intimidating, and contentious courtroom battle, parents can wade through these sensitive matters in a more private and supportive space. It’s important to note that mediators do not follow a “one-size-fits-all” approach to this process. Although they may differ in their tactics and strategies for conducting the mediation, their mission remains the same—helping the parties collaborate and actively shape the outcome. To get the most out of child custody mediation, consider the following recommendations.

Resolve to Keep an Open Mind

The mediation process is, at its core, a collaboration. Collaboration relies on open communication, active listening, and a willingness to compromise. As you prepare for child custody mediation, remind yourself that this experience is not about getting everything you want. Instead, you and your former spouse need to focus on what is best for your children. Committing to listening to the other parent and considering their perspective will make the process much more effective, supportive, and successful.

Identify Your Goals

Even though mediation is conducted in a private and confidential environment, the personal nature of these conversations can activate intense emotions. It’s often helpful to identify and articulate your goals before the session begins. For example, consider sketching out a proposal for what you believe would be a fair custody and parenting time arrangement. These notes will offer a concrete starting point for your negotiations, and you can refer to them during the session to keep your conversations moving forward. Many mediators will meet with the parties before the session to discuss the steps you can take to prepare for a fruitful mediation experience.

Keep the Focus on Your Children

Many child custody negotiations occur within the context of a divorce. Naturally, the parties may feel overwhelmed, stressed, and emotional about this significant life event, so the conversation may move from negotiating a parenting plan to another marital or divorce issue. However, it’s important to keep the focus on your children and how you can put a system in place that best supports their needs. The mediator can help to steer any off-topic conversations back on track, so don’t worry if other matters crop up during this challenging time. Gentle reminders to concentrate on the primary goal of the child custody mediation will keep things running smoothly.

Work With a Mediator You Trust

People differ in their communication styles and approach to conflict resolution. Instead of simply selecting the first mediator you find, it’s worth exploring some options to determine which mediator best supports your needs. Ask them questions about their approach to mediation, how they handle conflict between the parties, what you can expect from working with them, and other factors that you feel are important. Child custody matters can be complicated, so make sure you find a mediator you can trust with these sensitive issues.

Call the Hemmat Law Group today at (206) 682-5200 to learn more about how we can support you through the child custody mediation process in the greater Seattle area.

Legal Operations Director at Hemmat Law Group | (206) 745-3549 | Website | + posts

John Socha is Hemmat Law's firm’s Legal Operations Director. He graduated from the University of Washington and has led HLG's administration since 2019.