Decide in advance exactly what you want to achieve in mediation. If you have a clear idea of what you want, you will do a better job explaining your position to the mediator. Create a Mediation Binder to bring with you. Include a Parenting Plan that lays out your ideal arrangement for custody and visitation. Include a schedule of when you would have the children, when the other parent would have them, and who is responsible for pick-up and drop-off. Bring a calendar, and include a schedule for holidays, school vacations, and extra-curricular activities. If you have a good idea about what the other parent wants, you can make notes on the areas where you would be willing to compromise.
Prepare the Mediator
The mediator can be provided with documents prior to your mediation appointment. Each county has separate rules regarding how many pages can be submitted, so check with the Family Court Services in your county. Helpful documents include letters from teachers or care-providers, grades and attendance reports, reports from doctors or therapists, or information related to the other parent or their living situation. You should also bring a copy of restraining orders in place, if there are any. Any documents submitted to the mediator for review must also be served on the other party prior to the mediation. Check with your county for details on when documents must be served, usually at least 5 days before the appointment.
Consult with Your Attorney
If you have an attorney, you can still consult with them prior to mediation even if they cannot attend with you. They can discuss your proposed Parenting Plan and may help you put it together. They can advise you of your rights and the rights of the other parent so you have reasonable expectations of the mediation process. Your attorney can advise you as to which documents will be the most effective to submit to the mediator, they can submit them for you and have them served on the other parent. Your attorney is your advocate and meeting prior to mediation can make you feel confident and empowered. You will know you are well-advised and well-prepared for your appointment.
Go with an Open Mind
The purpose of mediation is to resolve your custody and visitation dispute with a minimum of conflict. If you refuse to compromise, you will just end up back in court. You should know in advance what you want and where you are willing to compromise, but you should also be open to the other parent's ideas. The goal is to reach an agreement. When an agreement cannot be reached during mediation, the mediator reports to the judge and makes recommendations as to how the dispute should be resolved. If you appear to be unbending, that will likely appear in the report. Judges take mediation reports very seriously and will often adopt the mediator's recommendations if the parties refuse to come to an agreement. Remember you are there because of the children, and open mind will help you put your own issues aside so you can focus on what is best for them.