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Here is a brief overview of custody litigation.*
When parents can't agree on issues of custody and visitation, many states require the parents, and sometimes the children, to participate in mediation. The parents meet with a mediator, who may be a member of the court staff. It may be a person with extensive training and experience. The mediator tries to help the parents reach an agreement. Some parents hire a private mediator to help them solve their custody and visitation problems.
Sometimes the court will order an investigation and recommendation by a social worker or mental health professional. The investigation may include interviews with the parents, the children, their teachers, their day care providers, neighbors, doctors and anyone else who is significantly involved with the children. The investigator usually writes a report and makes recommendations to the judge. The recommendation can be helpful in reaching an agreement. If no agreement is reached, and the custody or visitation dispute must be decided by the court, the judge will probably read the report and be influenced by it.
Lawyer or guardian ad litem for the children
The court may appoint a lawyer or a guardian ad litem, or both, to represent the children or look out for their best interest in a custody or visitation dispute. The roles of each vary from state to state.
If after investigation, negotiation, and mediation, the parents are still not able to settle custody and visitation issues, these issues are presented to the court for decision in a trial in which witnesses are called and arguments are presented. Then the matter is out of the parents' control as the judge decides what arrangement to impose on them.
Copyright 1994-2000 American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
*Addition by Nissenbaumlaw.com editor