4 helpful tips to prepare for child custody mediation
In Orange County, Los Angeles, and Riverside counties, Family Court Services provides a no-cost and mandatory child custody and visitation mediation when one parent (or both) file a Request for Order asking for a hearing with child custody and visitation issues. This mediation is codified in California Family Code § 3170 which gives the court the authority to set the contested issues for mediation.
What happens in a mandatory child custody mediation?
What happens in a mandatory child custody mediation?
Second, your duty in mediation is to participate in good faith negotiations. You should (1) walk in with an open mind, (2) listen to the other parent and the mediator, (3) make your child custody and visitation proposals and explain why, and (4) be reasonable and polite – even if no agreement is made.
Certain counties are “reporting counties” – which means that even if no agreement was reached, the mediator will prepare a report of what was discussed and make recommendations to the family law judge after the mediation. Riverside County is, as of May 2019, a reporting county. Be cognizant that a report could be made of your mediation process. Speak to an attorney or Family Court Services to confirm whether your county is a “reporting county.”
Third, you are under no obligation to come to an agreement at a custody mediation. You should only come to an agreement you believe is in the children’s best interest. Nobody can pressure you into agreeing to a custody. You are welcome to tell the other parent and the mediator that you are not sure and you’d like to talk to your lawyer before agreeing.
Fourth, if you have an existing Restraining Order or you fear for your safety in the same room as the other parent, tell Family Court Services and the bailiff when you check in. Safety is always a priority. The mediator can mediate between two parents even if they are not in the same room.
Who is permitted to be present at the mediation?
Only the parents of the child can be present at the mediation and (of course) the Family Court Services’ mediator.
Attorneys are not permitted to be present at the mediation. Friends, family members, spouses or partners, or any other third party are excluded and but may wait in the waiting room.
How can I prepare for mandatory child custody mediation?
What should I review, what should I say and what really happens in a mandatory child custody mediation?
Your Request for Order or your Responsive Declaration:
It is very likely that you or the other parent filed a Request for Order that caused the mandatory mediation to be calendared with Family Court Services. If the other parent filed the Request for Order, it is critical that you timely respond and serve your Responsive Declaration.
Review what has been filed relating to your custody matter. Make notes on the “why” behind your requests and your responses to the other parent’s statements.
If you didn’t file a request for specific custody orders – its time to put together your “Proposed Orders”.
No matter what Southern California county your case is located, the Orange County Parenting Guidelines is a good place to start. The OC Parenting Plan Guidelines has blank forms that you can print and prepare notes for your custody proposals. What is your proposal for an “in-school” custody schedule? Summer Break? Winter Break? Look at the holiday schedule and make proposals for each. What holidays are most important to you? What time do you exchange your children? Where? Prioritize and bring your notes with you to mediation.
If your county has its own parenting plan guidelines, you should read those as well.
Click to read the Orange County Parenting Plan Guidelines
Another resource can be found at LA Court Website.
Start putting together documents; photos; or text messages that support your position. Even if it does not sway the other parent to make a compromise – you will be more prepared (for mediation and, if necessary, the hearing). Review any documents that the other parent attached to their Request for Order or Responsive Declaration. Print these documents; photos or text messages – hard copies are needed for exhibits.
Review existing court orders. If there are already court orders on custody and visitation (parenting time) in existence and one parent is seeking to modify those orders - re-review them so that you are familiar with it.
Why does it matter?
This is your opportunity to have a no-cost neutral mediator listen and negotiate a compromised custody and visitation (parenting time) schedule. Generally speaking, parents who reach an agreement for custodial schedules for their children feel more satisfied with the result and utilize that schedule for longer periods of time.
Even if you and the other parent can reach agreements only on holiday custodial time – you will save yourself significant time, money, and emotional energy. The judge who hears your Request for Order will appreciate that you and the other parent made an effort to compromise. Only you know your family traditions and when your aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents celebrate, where and what time. Or that Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas morning in your household. Or that you and your family celebrate Hanukkah or Diwali. Court time and resources is limited – this is the opportunity to take the time as your children’s parents to provide input on a schedule that works for your family individually.
Please contact our office if you need help with your child custody case to schedule a consultation. Review, use or transmission of the information above does not create an attorney-client relationship. Nothing contained on this page or on our website is legal advice nor should it be construed as such.