The breakdown of a relationship can be a challenging and emotional time for all involved, but when children are part of the equation, the stakes are raised. Deciding who will have custody of the children and what the access arrangements will be can be one of the most contentious parts of a separation or divorce.
When there is disagreement between parents about what is in the best interests of the children, there are several legal options available to try to resolve child custody disputes. These include:
1. Negotiation: In some cases, parents are able to have an informal discussion and come to an agreement about child custody and visitation matters. Negotiation is often the least expensive and stressful option and can be a good way to maintain positive relationships and reduce the conflict level between parties.
2. Mediation: Mediation involves meeting with a neutral third party who helps parents negotiate and reach an agreement about child custody and access. Mediation can be a cost-effective way to resolve disputes, and often leads to more creative solutions that work for all parties.
3. Arbitration: Like mediation, arbitration involves a neutral third party, but the arbitrator has the power to make a binding decision. Parents can agree in advance that they will abide by the arbitrator’s decision and this can provide a more timely and cost-effective resolution to disputes.
4. Collaborative law: Collaborative law is a process where both parties agree to work together with their lawyers to come to a mutually agreed-upon resolution. This can involve the use of outside experts, such as child psychologists or financial advisers, to help guide the negotiation and decision-making process.
5. Litigation: When all other options have failed, litigation may be the only way to resolve a child custody dispute. In some cases, a judge may need to make a decision about what is in the best interests of the children. This can be a lengthy and expensive process, and can often cause further harm to the parties’ relationships.
No matter which legal option you choose, it is important to focus on the best interests of the children and to seek out experienced legal advice to guide you through the process. By working together and exploring all possible options, you can find a resolution to child custody disputes that works for you and your family.