Written by attorney Tabitha M Brincat

Tips for Attending FCS Mediation in San Diego County

These tips are intended to assist parties attending Family Court Services Mediation ("FCS") in San Diego County and how to best maximize your possibility for success at mediation.

San Diego County is a "recommending county" which means that the FCS mediators draft reports and make recommendations to the Court after you attend FCS mediation. I always suggest client be professionally prepped prior to mediation. However, if that is not feasible, then take a look at the link below for more information about the mediation process.

You and the other parent will meet with the FCS mediator, who is a neutral third party appointed by the court. Neither of you are allowed to have attorneys present at mediation. Each of you will have the opportunity to present your side of the custody/visitation story to the mediator and tell the mediator what you would like as a custody/visitation outcome. Unless either of you request to meet separately with the mediator, you both will be in the same room discussing these issues with the mediator. You are free to suggest meeting separately if you have any fears or concerns about the other party but my suggestion is that you meet together so you are able to hear what the other parent says to the mediator and rebut anything they bring up.

The goal of the mediator is to get you to come to a full agreement on custody/visitation (or some minor agreements regarding holidays, etc.). If you come to an agreement there that is acceptable to you, then the mediator will draft a written report containing the agreements and submit it to the Judge, which will then be made into the Court's order. However, you do not have to agree at mediation if you are not comfortable doing so. If you come to a compromise, then it's fine to make that an agreement (which would be valid as an enforceable court order) but you are not required to come to an agreement. If you are unable to agree on any issues, then the mediator will draft a report to the Court with the mediator's recommendations for what the Court should order. You and the other party (and your attorneys, if either of you have one) will get copies of the report prior to the hearing. Typically the Courts give a lot of weight to the FCS reports so it is important to remember a few things going into the mediation:

  1. Be sure to arrive on time for your appointment. If either party is late or misses the time, sanctions (monetary penalties) are usually imposed by the court.

  2. Do not interrupt - this is very important because interrupting the mediator or the other party shows a) a lack of respect for them, b) inability to control oneself, c) potential temper issues, and d) impatience. The mediators are typically licensed therapists and interruptions are viewed as very aggressive behavior. If the other party says something you disagree with or need to address, make a note and address it when it is your turn to talk.

  3. You can take papers/notes with you for your own clarification and memory but neither party may give the mediator any papers to look at during the mediation - the session is entirely oral.

  4. **Most important: Keep the conversation focused on the kids and their best interests -Remember this mediation session is only about custody and visitation so keep it focused on what is best for the kids and not smearing the other parent's character. It's fine to discuss concerns like the environment at the other parent's home, lack of supervision, the other parent not fostering or encouraging a relationship between you and the child, or the other party's failure to provide for the children's basic emotional needs but do not focus on simply bad-mouthing the other parent. Remember the focus is for what is best for your child.

  5. Do not mention percentages of time each of you spend with the child - saying you want what's best for them, or what's fair, or equal time is fine but do not quantify in percentages. If you speak in terms of "X% of time with the child" that sets off alarm bells in the mediators' heads because percentages are only important for child support purposes and custody/visitation should have nothing to do with support. There should be no talk of money or percentages of time at this mediation. If so, the mediators will see that as the main concern being about money instead of the children.

Best of luck!

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