Custody Mediation Versus Arbitration

Find Out Which Child Custody Option is Best for You

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Divorce is messy when there are two people involved. If kids are in the mix, the battle for custody can add another complicated layer. Will both parties split the responsibility? If not, who will take the primary parenting role?

Prior to a court hearing, single parents should consider a less adversarial system, such as mediation or arbitration. That way, if you can both amicably make a plan, you won't have to get the court involved.

If you're trying to decide which option is best for your situation, know that parents who are considering custody mediation versus arbitration will benefit from a better understanding of both processes. Here are the key benefits and differences between mediation and arbitration.


Child custody mediation is an excellent forum to assist single parents in handling their ​child custody cases. In mediation, a mediator, who is a neutral third-party individual, is chosen for the case. During mediation, all parties discuss the case with each other in a confidential manner. Unlike in binding arbitration, mediation is informal and has no rules. The decision is determined by the parties involved in the case, and there is a speedy settlement.The agreement is non-binding in court.


Arbitration is beneficial for parents who have trouble communicating with each other. It's also ideal for parents who prefer a more structured process. In arbitration, an arbitrator, a neutral third-party, is appointed to the case. The arbitrator functions as a judge, and takes both parties through a formal, structured process. Once both parties discuss the case with the arbitrator, a decision is made that is determined by law and binding in court.

Combination of Mediation and Arbitration

Sometimes, the child custody process starts with non-binding mediation and becomes arbitration, if the parties don't agree. As such, the entire, combined process is referred to as binding mediation. In this case, it's possible for mediation to be legally binding.

How to Choose Between Mediation and Arbitration

Depending on the state of your communication with your ex, it could be difficult to choose which route to start with for your custody case. Parents should consider whether it's possible to make a decision in an open, informal manner. If that's the case, and you and your ex can openly discuss custody, mediation could be the right fit. Mediation is similar to collaborative law, with the exception that it is not binding in court.

If parents prefer the structure of an agreement crafted in a court-like setting, arbitration may be a better alternative; it gets everything down on paper in a legally binding manner from the start. With arbitration, the expectations for both parties are clearly lined out, and because of the legal nature of the document, they have clear consequences.

The choice between mediation and arbitration truly depends on the parties involved, as well as their level of communication. No matter what route you choose, there are benefits to custody mediation and arbitration as an alternative to a formal court process. Parents should make a joint decision, based on the needs of their family.