When a parent asks the Court to make or change an order regarding child custody or visitation, the parents will be ordered to attend mediation. This type of “mediation” is different from Divorce Mediation, which is typically done by a private mediator hired by the parties.
Both types of mediation can address issues of child custody and visitation, but in this context, the parties will meet with the Court’s own in-house Family Court Services mediator as required by Family Code § 3170.
In some counties, such as Los Angeles and Orange, what happens in mediation is confidential. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the exact details of the mediation remain confidential, and the Family Court Mediator is unable to disclose to the Court specific details about what happened in mediation or make formal recommendations.
Court’s in other counties like Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura, are known as “recommending counties.” In those counties, the Court’s Mediator will prepare a formal custody recommendation that is submitted to the Court. The mediator may also inform the court about specific discussions that were made during mediation. The Court often adopts the mediation recommendations, in some manner, in its final ruling.
Because of the importance of Court ordered mediation and the power of the Mediator, we fully discuss the mediation process with our clients and work to hone their skills before the actual mediation takes place. This might seem like overkill to some, but because the stakes are high, especially in “recommending counties,” we do not want to take any chances with your children.
Sadly, we are aware of too many cases where the Mediator made poor recommendations, often without having a complete understanding of the true dynamics of the case. It is for this reason that we take the extra step to prepare our clients for mediation so thoroughly. The reality is that whenever the Mediator has an opportunity to make a recommendation, whether it is a formal recommendation or not, it will have some weight with the Court. In many cases, it may actually influence the Court’s ultimate decision about where your child will live and under what circumstances the other parent will be able to spend time with them.
In most cases, unless there are issues involving Domestic Violence or restraining orders, both parties will meet with the Mediator at the same time. If one of the parties is physically uncomfortable meeting with the Mediator and the other party at the same time, which usually occurs in a small room, it is possible to ask to meet separately.
If you want to meet with the Mediator separately or if you need to appear telephonically for the Mediation appointment, you need to make that request in advance.