Divorce is hard, and the most difficult challenge divorcing parents face is coming to an agreement on a child-centered parenting plan (AKA custody and visitation arrangement).
Judges are always reluctant to make these decisions for parents and always remind divorcing parents from the bench that these choices are best made by parents who cooperate. Psychologists agree that in most parenting plan disputes each proposal is usually equally good, and the real danger to the children is the hostility between parents. Unfortunately, this hostility only gets worse as the parents go through the process of preparing for and going to the court hearing and by having the judge make a decision. The winner becomes more aggressive, while the loser begins planning a revenge as he or she is walking out the courthouse doors.
The best parenting plans are made by parents who cooperate and adjust the plan depending on how the child tolerates the arrangement. The first draft, whether made by parents or by the judge, is often imperfect and needs to be adjusted. It is not practical for feuding parents to go back to the judge and get another parenting plan order. So when parents feud, the child is often stuck with a plan that does not fit, which may be about as comfortable for the child as the shoes that don’t fit. Parents who cooperate will be sensitive to child’s needs and will make the necessary adjustments without court involvement.
Therefore the goal of mediation is not only to reach an agreement but also to negotiate in good faith so the relationship between parents will improve as a result of this process. When IBM sues Microsoft the presidents of the two companies may meet at a club as friends who enjoy a good legal contest. When mom and dad litigate a custody dispute, their hostility is real and children feel it and are hurt by it.