When a family with children under age 18 go through a divorce, the parents must come up with a plan for caring for their children in two households. No one knows children and what is best for them better than their parents, and if the parents can agree on a plan, they can avoid having a judge, who doesn’t know their children, make the plan for them. To facilitate resolution of cases involving parenting issues, St. Louis County has instituted a rule that requires everyone with children to participate in at least two hours of mediation aimed at creating a parenting plan. This requirement will be waived if the parents jointly submit a signed parenting plan to the court.
If you aren’t able to agree on a plan, here’s what you need to know about mediation:
- Mediation is a process in which a neutral person (the mediator) facilitates discussions between two disputing parties. The mediator has no authority to make a decision – their role is to help the parents come to an agreement. If the parents do not agree, then they can proceed with attorney-assisted negotiations or, if necessary, a trial.
- Mediation is confidential. If you don’t reach an agreement, the mediator cannot share anything that was said during the mediation with the court or with the lawyers.
- The parents may agree upon a mediator who is on the St. Louis County Family Court approved mediator list to conduct confidential mediation, or the judge may order them to meet with a mediator on the list.
- The parents (through their lawyers) are required to file a form informing the court either that:
- the parenting issues have been resolved;
- the parents have voluntarily participated in mediation;
- the parents have agreed to a mediator and scheduled a mediation session;
- the parents can’t agree on a mediator and that the judge will have to appoint one; or
- they are requesting an exemption from this rule.
The judge can also order parents to work with the court’s Domestic Relations Services unit, purposes of screening and evaluation of their parenting plan. The use of Domestic Relations Services is not confidential.
The mediation process must be completed or scheduled with the mediator before the first settlement conference.