Mediation for a child custody case is typically a day-long meeting at which the parties try to make agreements to settle the case.
Mediation will usually occur at the mediator’s office, with each party in separate conference rooms. Typically, there will not be a face-to-face meeting between the parties.
Mediation proceeds in an offer-counteroffer format, with the mediator helping each party develop their offers and communicating them to the other side. The child custody mediator’s job is to advocate for settlement—in other words, the mediator guides you toward compromises that will work for both parties.
Importantly, the mediator does not get to decide anything—the parties always have control and can choose to say “yes”, “no”, or simply make another counteroffer. The goal of mediation is to create and have everyone sign a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that addresses all of the issues in your child custody case.
Once an MSA is signed by all parties (and their divorce attorneys, if any), it is binding on all parties and cannot be revoked or overturned. It is normal for mediation to last all day and even into the evening depending on the difficulty of the case. However, the parties are always free to decide to end the mediation early if they believe that no progress is being made.
The custody mediator is normally paid by the hour, similar to the lawyers. Mediation can be an expensive day, but it is far less expensive than the cost of going to trial.