Many clients are confused why they have to attend mediation prior to a hearing involving child custody and/or visitation. The Family Court Services is part of the Superior court. The staff attempts to mediate disagreements between divorcing and/or separating parents regarding the care of their children. They are not attorneys—they are court employees.
Mediation is mandatory. If there is a custody dispute, both parents must attend. The Family code requires that if there is a contested issue regarding children, the parties must first attempt to resolve the matter before it is a litigated hearing (Family Code Section 3170). Mediation is required for dissolution, paternity, and guardianship cases.
Even though there is a requirement to mediate, there is no requirement that they reach an agreement. An appointment must be made prior to the scheduled court date. For domestic violence cases and those that have restraining orders, separate sessions are available upon request.
When parties arrive at Conciliation court, they are asked to complete and sign an information form. They will be advised of the rules of mediation, what issues can be addressed, and their options. The mediator may meet with the parties together or individually.
The goal of mediation is to assist the parties to set aside their disputes and focus on determining the best interests of the children. The ultimate focus should be developing possible solutions to issues such as legal custody, parenting plans, vacation and holiday schedules, transportation and other areas specific to children.
In Los Angeles County, mediation is confidential. Mediators will not make report to the court regarding the issues discussed or make recommendation to the court. The mediator may only submit to the court agreements that are mutually agreed and signed by both parents. Mediators will inform the court when a party fails to appear, refuses to mediate, or cannot reach an agreement. They can also advise the court if there are child abuse allegations being invested by the Department of Children and Family Services.
The mediations may also recommend a child custody evaluation and recommend that an attorney be appointed to represent the child. Children are not always interviewed. In fact, I do not recommend children being present at mediation court unless agreed to by both parties.
If you have attorneys representing you in your family law case, they may go to mediation but are not required to be present. If both parties have attorneys, both must be present to participate. If attorneys are not present, parties must be advised to bring copies of any agreement to their attorneys for review prior to a pending court hearing or the 10 day cancellation date.
If an agreement is reached, the mediators will draft the issues that were agreed to and acceptable to both parties. As for the agreement being binding, a parent can change his or her mind within 10 days of signing the agreement. Cancellation requests must be in writing and must be received by the Conciliation Court.
If there is no agreement, the mediator will notify the court the parents participated in mediation but no agreement was reached. Who are these mediators? The mediators are required to hold a masters degree in a social science and a 5 years experience working with families and children. Many are licensed in clinical social work or marriage, family, and child counseling. Lastly, there is no charge for mediation services.
It is court order and failure to appear for your mediation date is a violation of a court order. In fact, I am defending a client who is alleged to have violated this order so take it seriously.
Any comments or questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 310-601-7144.