Resolving Parenting Conflicts Through Mediation

By Amanda Marsden, Senior Calgary Family Lawyer

Mediation is a process of dispute resolution where a neutral third party, known as the mediator, facilitates communication and negotiation between parties in conflict. The mediator does not make any decisions or judgments, but instead helps the parties reach a mutually agreeable resolution. The goal of mediation is to help the parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement that addresses their concerns and interests without resorting to litigation or formal arbitration. Mediation is often used by parties dealing with conflict on parenting matters, whether it's setting a parenting schedule or agreeing on communication methods moving forward.

Benefits of Mediating a Parenting Dispute.

It’s typically desirable to attend mediation to solve family law disputes, but mediation may be even more beneficial if the dispute arises out of parenting concerns. It’s almost always in children’s best interests for parents to reach an agreement, rather than going to court to seek a parenting order.

Given these advantages, you might wonder: what specific benefits does mediation offer? There are several but here are a few key ones:

  1. Flexible - mediation allows for more flexibility than court. The parties can negotiate an agreement on their own terms and decide what works best for them and their children. Mediation is also a voluntary process, so the parties can decide when and where to meet. They can also decide the length of any given mediation session as well as choose their own mediator. They ultimately have control over the outcome of the mediation. This flexibility allows the parties to craft a resolution that works best for them, addresses the unique circumstances of their family, and puts the focus onto working amicably as parents.
  2. Reduced legal complexity - mediation typically involves simpler procedures and fewer legal complexities in comparison to litigation. Parties can address their concerns directly with the mediator without needing to navigate complex legal procedures or rules of evidence. It’s not necessary to provide evidence in support of their position or provide legal arguments prior to attending mediation. It’s perfectly acceptable to treat mediation as a productive conversation during which issues can be explored as opposed to coming prepared to “win”.
  3. Private and Confidential – Unlike court, mediation is confidential and voluntary, meaning that the parties involved can decide what information is shared and what is kept private. This means the parties can discuss sensitive issues without fear of the information becoming public. Mediation is also less formal than court proceedings, allowing the parties to discuss their issues in a more relaxed atmosphere.
  4. Without prejudice process – family law mediation is confidential and conducted 'without prejudice', allowing parties to propose creative solutions without fear that these suggestions could be used against them if mediation fails and the case proceeds to court. Positions, concerns, and potential settlement options can be freely discussed, which fosters open and honest communication, allowing parties to work toward a mutually acceptable agreement. Without prejudice mediation allows parties to consider a wide range of settlement solutions without being constrained by legal formalities or precedent. This process can help preserve relationships between parties by allowing them to engage in settlement discussions without damaging trust or exacerbating conflict.
  5. Empowering - attending mediation for a parenting dispute can be empowering because it gives both parties the opportunity to work together to come up with a mutually beneficial solution. It also allows both parties to have a voice in the process and to be heard. Mediation can also help to reduce the stress and tension associated with a parenting dispute, as it provides a safe and neutral environment for both parties to discuss their issues. Finally, mediation can help to build trust and understanding between the parties, which can help to foster a positive co-parenting relationship.
  6. Customized solutions - Mediation allows parties to explore creative and customized solutions that may not be available through the courts. They can tailor agreements to fit the unique circumstances of their family situation, considering factors such as schedules, parenting styles, and children's preferences.
  7. Speed - mediation is typically faster than proceeding through the courts. Parties can schedule mediation sessions at their convenience, allowing for faster resolution without the need to coordinate with busy court calendars. In mediation, parties communicate directly with each other and the mediator, avoiding the formalities and delays of court proceedings like waiting for court dates, filing paperwork, and following procedural rules. Mediation occurs in a more informal and cooperative setting than a courtroom, which fosters open communication and leads to quicker resolutions.
  8. Cost-effective - mediation is often less expensive and more efficient than court proceedings due to its informality and the absence of associated costs such as filing fees, court reporter fees, and personal service fees. Mediation also typically resolves issues faster than court proceedings, further helping to reduce costs.
  9. Preservation of relationships - mediation fosters cooperation and collaboration, which can preserve or even rebuild relationships, particularly in ongoing co-parenting situations. By collaborating to find mutually acceptable solutions, parties can reduce animosity and foster a more amicable relationship post-divorce or separation.

Disputes Most Suitable for Mediation

While there may be circumstances where mediation is not suitable, its numerous benefits make it a highly desirable option for resolving family law disputes. Some of the disputes that may be the most suitable for mediation include:

  • Parenting Schedules - establishing a parenting schedule that outlines when children will spend time with each parent is important for maintaining stability and consistency in children's lives. Mediation enables parents to collaboratively develop a schedule that considers factors like work commitments, school activities, holidays, and special occasions.
  • Decision-making authority - determining how major decisions regarding the children's upbringing will be made is another important aspect of parenting agreements. Mediation helps parents create a decision-making framework that values each parent's input and ensures decisions serve the children's best interests. In court, this is often an all or nothing question, either decision making is joint, or one party has sole decision making. Mediation allows for flexible arrangements where certain decisions may be made by one parent, while others are made jointly. This adaptability to unique circumstances is a key advantage of the mediation process.
  • Communication methods - establishing effective communication methods between co-parents is essential for co-parenting success. Mediation can facilitate discussions on how parents will communicate with each other about parenting issues. This can include phone calls, emails, text messages, or co-parenting applications. Parents can establish a framework that sets minimum standards and limits for communication, ensuring openness in parenting matters without overwhelming each other with unnecessary interactions.
  • Childcare and transportation - deciding on responsibilities related to childcare and transportation can help alleviate logistical challenges and ensure smooth transitions for children between parental households. Mediation can assist parents in creating a plan for sharing responsibilities such as transportation for school, extracurricular activities, and medical appointments. It’s important for each parent to feel that the other is contributing fairly to the logistical responsibilities of parenting. The best way to address this issue is through detailed communication and consideration of the unique circumstances of each family, this is something that can occur seamlessly in the mediation process.
  • Extracurricular activities and education – it is important to establish a plan on how decisions will be made as it relates to your children’s extracurricular activities, education, and enrichment opportunities to ensure their interests and well-being are prioritized. Mediation helps parents create coordinated plans that support their children’s participation in these activities. Managing expectations for involvement in extracurricular activities early in the co-parenting process is important, and it helps to define the extent to which each parent can commit to supporting these activities, ensuring a well-rounded and effective co-parenting plan.
  • Financial support - determining child support and other financial responsibilities is often a key component of parenting agreements. Mediation can help parents negotiate fair and equitable financial arrangements that meet the children's needs while also considering each parent's financial circumstances. This discussion is especially important as it relates to payment of extracurricular expenses. The fees and extra cost of these expenses vary widely, and it may be important to set limits on each parties’ contribution to these fees with consideration of the unique circumstances of each family.
  • Parenting rules and guidelines - establishing consistent rules and guidelines for parenting across households can promote stability and minimize confusion for children. Mediation can assist parents in creating a set of parenting rules and guidelines that address issues such as discipline, screen time, household routines, and expectations for behaviour. Mediators are used to dealing with questions that may include: at what age can our daughter get her ears pierced? Are we going to encourage our teenagers to get part-time jobs during the school year? These types of questions are not effectively dealt with through the court process but can be appropriately handled through mediation.
  • Parenting during special circumstances - addressing how parenting responsibilities will be handled during special circumstances, such as vacations, emergencies, or changes in parental work schedules, helps to ensure children's needs are consistently met. Mediation can help parents develop contingency plans and protocols for managing such situations effectively. Travel protocols are also easily resolved through a mediated process. For example, for some families travelling extensively has always been acceptable and encouraged. Determining ahead of time that travel to various countries without the need for formal notarized consent reduces the unknown of whether there will be conflict relating to travel in the future. Proactively and cooperatively addressing these issues is certainly beneficial for the children.

Overall, mediation offers a collaborative and flexible approach to resolving parenting issues, allowing parents to create tailored agreements that prioritize the well-being of their children. This process not only lays a foundation for effective co-parenting but also fosters positive family relationships. Mediation demonstrates a commitment to cooperation and effective communication, essential for a successful co-parenting journey. It helps de-escalate conflicts that often arise during separation, reducing potential resentment and promoting a respectful forum for parents to express concerns and find common ground. Ultimately, the proactive, empowering nature of mediation, with its focus on preserving relationships, makes it an invaluable tool in family law, offering a pathway to satisfying resolutions for all involved.

At Crossroads Law, our dedicated team of mediators and family lawyers are skilled in coaching and guiding clients through the family law mediation process. Understanding the complexities and emotional nuances of parenting conflicts, we provide personalized and empathetic support to tailor solutions that prioritize the well-being of your family. Take the first step towards a more collaborative and harmonious co-parenting future. Call us or visit us online to book your free 20-minute consultation today and let us help you navigate the intricacies of mediation with confidence and care.

The information contained in this blog is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject. The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only.