Child custody is often the most emotional issue in a divorce or separation that parents will face. While the children’s interests should always come first, sometimes parents might disagree about what is best for them. Child Custody mediation in California can be an effective tool to help parents resolve their disputes and reach a custody agreement that meets the needs of their family — and allow their children to spend meaningful time with each parent.
How Does Child Custody Mediation in California Work in a Case?
Courts in California encourage parents to make decisions concerning child custody, rather than let a judge determine the outcome. Parents may voluntarily work with a private mediator to reach an agreement on their child custody matter, or they can participate in mediation facilitated through Family Court Services at no charge. Under the California Family Code, mediation for any contested issues in a custody case is mandatory prior to a hearing concerning the matter.
When court-ordered mediation takes place, both parents will meet with a mental health professional to openly discuss the issues that they don’t agree upon and develop a parenting plan. Depending on the county in which you live, the court may use “recommending mediation” or “non-recommending mediation.” In Fresno County, there are three tiers of mediation sessions — parents may participate in Child Custody Recommending Counseling or non-recommending mediation, at the judge’s discretion.
With recommending mediation, a mediator will share what transpired during the session with the judge. As long as the parents agree on the parenting plan that was prepared during mediation, the court will usually issue a final order. Otherwise, the mediator will include their recommendations in the report, which the judge will consider when making a custody determination.
In cases involving non-recommending mediation, the court is not provided with information regarding what occurred during the mediation session. Rather, if both parties concur on the parenting plan, it is submitted to the court for the judge to approve. If the parents didn’t come to an agreement during mediation, the court is made aware, but unlike in recommending mediation, the mediator does not provide any recommendations concerning custody.
What Happens in Court-Ordered Mediation for Child Custody?
A child custody mediation session may last a few hours, depending on the issues in the case and how quickly the parents can come to an agreement. In most cases, only one to two sessions are held. Before attending court-ordered mediation, parents are usually required to fill out an intake form which helps the mediator obtain critical information concerning the family’s needs.
Usually, the mediator will meet with both parents together to discuss their custody options. However, in cases where there has been a history of domestic violence, or a protective order is in place, separate mediation sessions will be scheduled for each parent. In some cases, the counselor may also privately interview any children involved in the case over the age of five.
It’s important to understand that during mediation sessions conducted by a court mediator, only child custody matters are discussed — spousal support, child support, and property division issues will not be addressed.
Does Private Child Custody Mediation Offer More Benefits?
Whether you opt for private mediation or participate in mediation at court, the goal is the same — to resolve your custody dispute with as little conflict as possible. However, private mediation is often much more comprehensive and you may be able to resolve various other matters pertaining to your divorce during these sessions, rather than go through the litigation process. Although only custody issues are raised during court-facilitated mediation, a private mediator can also work with you and your spouse to reach an agreement concerning support and property division matters.
Additionally, mediation facilitated by the court is often limited to one or two sessions. When parents work with a private mediator, they have the option to meet on their own time and attend as many sessions as necessary to work out their issues. At these sessions, the mediator will encourage healthy communication, compromise, and collaboration between the parents. Often, the communication tools that are acquired during mediation are also beneficial to the ongoing co-parenting relationship.
Creating a Parenting Plan During Mediation
Whether mediation is private or through the court, the main objective during child custody mediation in California is to develop a parenting plan. This agreement outlines how you and the other parent will raise your children and should address all aspects of custody — including physical custody and legal custody. Not only does the plan specify with whom the children will primarily live and which parent will have visitation rights, but it can also provide highly detailed information concerning the children’s day-to-day lives.
A good parenting plan should address:
- Physical custody
- School vacations
- Regular visitation and parenting time
- Transportation and exchanges for visits
- Education and schooling
- Religious upbringing
- Medical care
If the parenting plan was prepared during court-ordered mediation, parents have an opportunity to review it and are under no obligation to agree to it. In these cases, the judge will hold a hearing and render a decision on the matter. Regardless of whether your mediation was private or facilitated through the court, parenting plans become legally binding once they are ordered by the judge. If one parent fails to follow the parenting plan, the other can file a contempt action with the court, which can result in severe consequences.
Contact an Experienced Fresno Family Law Attorney
If you’re facing a child custody dispute, you may be feeling stressed, confused, and overwhelmed. It’s essential to have a knowledgeable and skilled family law attorney by your side who can guide you through the process and protect your legal rights. Providing mediation services and representing clients in litigation, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks is dedicated to working with clients to create legally enforceable parenting plans that meet the best interests of their children.
The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been assisting clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area with their divorce and family law matters for over 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.