This article explains the child custody mediation process in Wake County, NC.
Wake County has a child custody mediation program that was created by G.S. §§ 50-13.1(b), 7A-494, and 7A-495. Any case with a contested issue of custody or visitation must be referred to mediation unless excused by order of the assigned district court judge. The statute requires that a case be sent to mediation “[w]henever it appears to the court, from the pleadings or otherwise, that an action involves a contested issue as to custody or visitation ... .” This includes issues that that arise in motions for modification of child custody and for contempt related to temporary child custody and child custody orders.
When a child custody complaint or motion for child custody is filed in Wake County, the process of child custody mediation is triggered by the filing of a coversheet with the filed request for custody. The parties are notified when the mediation orientation is scheduled.
The custody mediation takes place at the Wake County Court House in Raleigh (directions). The first step is an orientation (where the parties learn about the process). At the orientation session, a date for the mediation session will be set. Failure to show up at the orientation or mediation session may result in a contempt motion and order being issued by the court.
The orientation session and the mediation session are handled by county-provided mediators. Attorneys are not part of either the orientation or the mediation session. The county pays for the mediators time. A mediator is a neutral person and is not there to impose a decision. The mediator's job is to help the two parents come to a mutually agreeable resolution of custody.
The child custody mediation is not an appropriate place for parties to mediate alimony, child support, and other economic issues. Many times parties will want to get into these issues but the mediators are trained to firmly insist that the program is only about child custody.
Mediation under the North Carolina statute is mandatory unless waived by the court for good cause shown by a party pursuant to a motion of either party or the court. Grounds for not requiring the mediation are:
- A showing of undue hardship;
- An agreement between the parties for voluntary mediation;
- Allegations of abuse or neglect of the child;
- Allegations of alcoholism, drug abuse, or domestic violence between the parents;
- Allegations of severe psychological, psychiatric, or emotional problems.
Finally, if mediation is successful, the mediator will prepare a draft parenting agreement which will be sent out to the parties and their attorneys for review. If they agree, the parenting agreement is signed by the parties and unless the court finds good reason not to, the agreement must be incorporated into a court order. This Parenting Agreement/Court Order is enforceable by the contempt powers of the court and is subject to modification.