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How to Coach Yourself Before Custody Mediation — for free

by Ben Coltrin

February 2022

Ben Coltrin

Some parents hire a coach to help them prepare for mediation. If you do this, the coach educates you on the best ways to prepare for a session and how to behave during one. The goal is to help mediation be as productive as possible.

Called conflict coaching, the service can cost several hundred dollars per hour. But you can save money by coaching yourself. Take these four steps before your first mediation session.

Do your research

Go into mediation knowing what you’re talking about. Familiarize yourself with answers to common custody questions, the custody processes in your jurisdiction and how mediation works. 

It’s also good to understand what your potential outcomes and costs are if your case goes to court. Talking to a lawyer about this helps you decide what to agree to during mediation.

Know what you want

You should have clear goals in mind when you enter mediation. Bring a draft parenting plan with you, as well as multiple options for parenting schedules. 

As you make these, prioritize your child’s best interest over what suits you. And never aim to punish or spite the other parent; that will only backfire.

Know what you don’t want

Just as you need to know what you’re aiming for in mediation, you need to know what you won’t agree to. 

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll convince the other parent to sign on to your proposals without any changes, so be prepared to meet near the middle. Define your no-go zones — maybe you won’t agree to see your child less than once a week — while still allowing for creative solutions.

Plan what to say 

Once you’ve set guidelines for yourself, you can plan what you’ll say in mediation. 

Start by writing an opening statement. Then figure out sentences and phrases you can use in dialogue without making the other parent defensive. Remember that you’re trying to convince the other parent, not the mediator or a judge. 

Finally, practice. Imagine what the other parent might say, and come up with appropriate responses in real time. You can even have a friend role play with you so you can practice staying calm and presenting your ideas convincingly.

The bottom line: Don’t forgo preparation

Whether you decide to use conflict coaching or to coach yourself, you can’t go into your first mediation session blind. You need a plan.

Above all, remember that mediation is not litigation. The goal is to cooperate rather than to win. Prepare accordingly so that you can move on to co-parenting and never have to face the other parent in court.

Ben Coltrin was 21 years old when he quit his job to create the Custody X Change software, which helps parents track their custody schedules, create parenting plans, keep tabs on their child's expenses, and more.

Nearly 20 years later, he loves sharing his child custody knowledge and improving the software because both positively impact real people's lives.

Ben has an MBA from MIT Sloan and a computer science degree from California State University, Sacramento. He lives with his wife and four children in Riverton, Utah.

Additional articles by Ben Coltrin
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