Few things are as difficult for parents as a child custody dispute. Some of the most serious such disputes involve one parent seeking sole custody of the child, but even a disagreement over the fine points of a parenting plan. The state of Washington has a set of rules in place to resolve these disputes while keeping the best interests of the child in mind. Many of these disputes can be resolved out of court through mediation.
One example of a reason for a dispute over a parenting plan would be a scenario in which one parent doesn't allow the other to see the child due to an ongoing personal issue or because the supporting parent has failed to keep up with required child support payments. If this is happening, the dispute can often be resolved by using mediation.
Mediation is an alternative method of dispute resolution in which a neutral third party helps the disputing parties to come to an agreement on their own, rather than having a judge decide for them. Compared to courtroom litigation, it is usually faster and less expensive. Because it relies on the parties reaching consensus, mediation rewards good communication. Mediation can be very useful in many types of legal disputes, but this emphasis on communication may be especially valuable for child custody disputes. When done well, mediation can lead to better cooperation in the future for the parents and for a healthier environment for the child.
Mediation is not the best solution for every child custody dispute. For instance, if there was a history of domestic violence in the relationship, mediation is generally not recommended. It's important to understand the benefits of mediation and what it entails by discussing the matter with a legal professional experienced in assisting clients in a child custody dispute.
Source: courts.wa.gov, "Chapter 7 - Shared Parenting For Divorcing Parents - Parenting Plans," accessed on Apr. 14, 2015