If one party lives far away or is fearful of being in the room with the other party they may apply for an exemption from mediation. A Judge will review the reasons and decide whether or not to grant a waiver of mediation. If nobody seeks a waiver of mediation the Court will generally send out notices for an orientation session the parties must attend where they watch a video to explain the process. At the conclusion of the orientation video the mediator will try and set up a time for both parties to return to have the actual mediation.
Many cases can and do settle with the help of a mediator. No attorneys are allowed to attend the custody mediation as all we do is complicate the process and stop deals from happening. Not to mention it saves parties the expense of having to pay an attorney. The mediator is a usually someone who works at the Courthouse, but is usually not a lawyer. His or her job is to convince both parties that a compromise is the best outcome rather than letting a Judge make a ruling neither party may be happy with. Different mediators bring different styles, but most simply are looking to have the parties reach any agreement. That being said the mediator has no authority to force anybody to agree to anything.
If an agreement is reached in mediation the mediator will draft up a Parenting Agreement that may include a detailed custody and visitation schedule or a generic agreement that the parties work together to share time. Luckily each party should be given an opportunity to have an custody attorney review the proposal to address any oversights or potential pitfalls such as ambiguous language. If no agreement is reached at mediation the trial court administrator will be notified and at some point in the future the parties will be notified of a Court hearing with a Judge. Even if you think mediation is a waste of time, you should go in with an open mind as you and the other parent need to learn how to co-parent on some level to prevent little issues from becoming Court battles that drag on for years.