Mediation and custody - 7 things you need to know
7 IMPORTANT TIPS TO KNOW ABOUT MEDIATION AND CHILD CUSTODY:
Whenever a party files a Request for Child Custody and Visitation Order or a modification of Custody and Visitation Orders, the Court requires that the parties attend mediation (also known as Conciliation Court, in Los Angeles County).
1) Mediation is a process that does not involve attorneys.
The parties attend mediation with a professional from Family Court Services, at no cost to the participants.
The assigned mediator attempts to create what is called a "parenting plan" setting forth a custody and visitation orders. If the parties agree on a parenting plan, the mediator will draft an agreement and both parties will have an opportunity to sign it. Typically, the "parenting plan" will have orders for both legal custody and physical custody, and may also include a holiday and summer break schedule, as well as provisions for vacation time.
2) You need to know whether you reside in a "reporting" or "non-reporting" county.
This is important because if you reside in a "reporting" county, (i.e., San Bernardino or Ventura) then mediation is not confidential. This means that the mediator will generate a report with recommendations regarding child custody and visitation and give it to the judge to review.
If you reside in a "non-reporting" county, (i.e., Los Angeles County) then what you say in mediation is confidential. This means that the mediator will not make recommendations to the judge about child custody and visitation; rather the mediator will either draft a proposed Order which both parties have agreed to, or indicate on a form that no agreement was reached.
While mediation is confidential in Los Angeles County, that is not the case in surrounding counties. You should consult with an experienced family law attorney to see whether the county your cases in is a "reporting county" or a "non-reporting county".
In "reporting" counties you must understand that whatever you say to the mediator is not confidential. This means that the mediator will prepare a report which will be presented to the judge. Accordingly, it is extremely important to meet with an experienced family law attorney before mediation so that you can review the list of your concerns and the best way to communicate those concerns to the mediator knowing that what you say is not confidential. Therefore, if you present as hostile or angry, or incapable of co-parenting, these traits will reflect negatively upon you in the mediation report.
The idea behind having mediation confidentiality in "non-reporting" counties is to encourage the parties to speak freely and openly about their custody and visitation concerns knowing that whatever they say in mediation will be kept confidential. Parents often are much more honest and open when they know that whatever is said in mediation will not be reported to the judge. This open communication is meant to facilitate an honest exchange which will ultimately achieve the best child custody and visitation plan for the children.
3) What if I make a mistake and agree to a "parenting plan" that I later regret?
In non-reporting counties, either party has an opportunity to object to the Conciliation Court agreement within 10 days. If neither party objects to the agreement, it becomes a Court Order once the judge signs it. If the parties do not reach an agreement in Conciliation Court, then the matter will proceed to hearing and the judge will decide what the child custody and visitation orders will be.
Make sure you send a copy of the mediation agreement to a family law attorney so she or he can go over it with you and decide whether it is best to file an objection.
4) What if you do not agree with the recommendations in the mediation report in a "reporting" county?
In "reporting counties," the mediator will prepare a report which will be presented to the judge regardless of whether the parties agree. Thus, it is very important to meet with a family law attorney before the mediation occurs, so you and an attorney can discuss how best to present your concerns in a well-reasoned, non-emotional manner.
If you disagree with the mediator's recommendations in "reporting counties," then you will probably need an experienced family law attorney to represent you in court because an attorney can cross-examine the mediator about bias, favoritism with one parent over the other, etc.
It is always a good idea to speak with an experienced attorney both before and after your mediation. A family law attorney will help prepare you for mediation beforehand, and determine if you have negotiated a good "parenting plan" afterwards, considering all the specific facts of your case.
No. Mediation through Family Court Services is not an opportunity for the parties to discuss any of the financials in the family law case. Mediators are only responsible for child custody and visitation issues.
Mediation is also not an opportunity for you to voice your complaints about the other party when it is irrelevant to child custody and visitation issues. Do not say anything disparaging about the other parent. If you do, the mediator may unconsciously or consciously hold that against you.
6) How do you get a mediation appointment?
When you file a Request for Orders involving child custody and visitation, the clerk will set up a mediation appointment and write the time and location on the first page of your documents. Both parties will also receive a notice in the mail reminding them of the appointment.
The clerk will also schedule a court date for some time after the mediation appointment, and will return the documents to you so you can effectuate service of the Request for Orders on the other party.
7) Can you request mediation without filing a Request for Orders?
Yes, you can request mediation to work out a "parenting plan" or make modifications to a "parenting plan" without scheduling a court date. There is no cost to attend Conciliation Court through Family Court Services but you should consult with a family law attorney beforehand to prepare you, and afterwards to review your mediation agreement, if one is signed.
The Law Offices of Cathleen E. Norton is a top family law firm dedicated to protecting your legal rights. Our goal is to empower you. Our job is to protect you. Cathleen E. Norton, Esq. is an experienced family law attorney who obtained both her B.A. and J.D. credentials from UCLA. You won't find a better qualified family law attorney to represent you! We have offices in Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Westlake Village and service family law cases in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Call us today for a free consultation at (310) 300-4021. For more information about the Law Offices of Cathleen E. Norton, please visit our website at www.nortonfamilylaw.com