Why does it take so long for the court to hear my custody case? There is not short answer but if you consider that the Court schedules approximately 2 weeks per month (9 trial days) to hear domestic cases and the average length of each contested case being a day (6 hours in court), the math would tell you that a judge could hear only about 100 trials per year. Considering that there are over 5,000 cases filed in our County alone each year it quickly becomes obvious as to why it takes so long. The budget does not allow for more Judges to speed up the process; so what is the solution? Delay or Custody Mediation.
The first step to address the problem was to change the law to require all parties in a custody case to attend custody mediation prior to a Judge getting involved in all but the most urgent custody decisions. Custody mediation in North Carolina is free and starts with an orientation movie to discuss the program and encourage meaningful participation by the parents. At the end of the movie the parties are scheduled for the actual sit down meeting with the mediator. Both parents will receive a notice from the custody mediation office with the date of your orientation, and then a second notice with your mediation date. If either or both party are represented by an attorney, the attorneys also receive a notice.
At the mediation, present are the parents and the court mediator. Lawyers and support from family and friends are not permitted to attend. There is no calling out for a lifeline. It is an attempt by the mediator to facilitate a constructive conversation by the parents and for them to create a reasonable solution to their own custody issue. The mediator is not there to decide but will draw attention to the reasonableness of a parent’s viewpoint in light of the law and actual decisions typically handed down by Judges. The sessions can be less than 5 minutes if the parties are hardnosed and unwilling to compromise but usually take about 1 to 2 hours to develop a working proposal. If mediation fails then the mediator gets a Judge to sign an Order reflecting the failure and then authorizing the calendaring for trial. At that point the attorneys then take the matter back over. If the mediation is successful, the meeting is adjourned and a copy of the draft proposal then goes to the respective attorneys who will discuss it with their client.
There may be some further tweaking of the proposal but in the end if an agreement is reached, the parties sign and the document is presented to a Judge for signature and entry as a Court Order. From start to finish this can be resolved in 2 to 3 months rather than 12-18 months. The difficulty is leaving your emotions on the divorce at the mediator’s door and being willing to put aside blame to discuss solutions in the child’s best interest. In the end, the choice is you having a role in the decision or letting a Judge tell you how it’s going to be.