Mediation is a negotiation process for parents to resolve conflict related to custody and placement of their children outside of the courtroom. A neutral mediator assists the parents in discussing contested issues and alternatives to resolve the dispute. The mediator will not force parents to reach an agreement and is not an advocate for either parent. The focus in mediation is on creative problem solving rather than proving a legal case.

Per Wisconsin Statute, mediation is mandatory for most parents that have a dispute related to custody and placement. What this means is that most parents may need to complete the mediation process before a judge will hear the dispute.

Any parent whose legal case is filed in Winnebago County may utilize mediation services. This includes parents that are in the process of divorce, who are already divorced, or parents that were never married but share children.

Parents that are actively involved in a pending court case may be referred to mediation directly by the court during a hearing or through a written request processed by the court. The court will send an order to the Office of Family Court Services to start the mediation process. Parents may also request services voluntarily by contacting the Office of Family Court Services directly. It only takes one parent to request services. The requesting parent will be required to complete an affidavit so a court order can be obtained to force the other parent to participate. If both parents agree to participate in mediation and contact the office, a file can be opened without either parent completing an affidavit.

Mediation cases are screened accordingly at the outset in order to assess if parents are appropriate for mediation. If you do not feel safe attending orientation and/or mediation with the other parent, you may contact the Director of Family Court Services to discuss your concern. Measures may be taken to ensure that all parents feel comfortable while active in the mediation process.

Attendance at a mandatory orientation program prior to mediation will be assessed by the Director of Family Court Services at the time of the referral/request. Individual sessions are scheduled for 1 1/2 hours. Only the natural parents and the assigned mediator(s) may participate in the session. Attorneys will not be involved in the process. Mediation is concluded when parents reach an agreement or the mediator assesses that an agreement will not be forthcoming. Your mediator will draft up any agreements reached and send them to the court so that the new agreement may become a binding court order. If no agreement is reached, the court will be notified that an impasse has occurred. Only the mediators may declare an impasse.

Parents can expect to discuss co-parenting and communication, legal custody (decision-making) and physical placement (the children's schedules). Mediation for financial issues, including child support, may not be negotiated. Financial issues related to the children or the dissolution of the marital estate may be handled by the court or in a separate office, called the Conflict Resolution Center (see 'Resource Links').

If you have additional questions about the mediation process, you may contact the Office of Family Court Services at the number listed on the right side of this page. A mediator will be available during the noted times to answer your questions and process any requests to enter into the mediation program.