Determining a workable custody arrangement for your child(ren) is one of the most difficult and heart-wrenching situations you’ll ever experience. Divorce and paternity cases challenge even the strongest people, and the involvement of children intensifies feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and guilt.
Parties in the midst of dissolving their relationship are automatically provided by the family court system with the assistance of a neutral party to negotiate a custody agreement. Those agreements are supposed to reflect the best interests of the child. Family Court Services is the court service which conducts mediation to assist couples in discussing and resolving disputes related to child custody and/or visitation scheduling.
Family Court Services says that the goal of a child custody mediation is three-fold: 1) to reduce any hostility between the parties, 2) to develop an agreement that provides assurance to the child that contact with both parents will continue, and 3) to achieve a resolution to the issues of custody that is in the best interests of the child. Like several other California Counties, San Diego County is called a Child Custody Recommending County.
As the name suggests, in a Child Custody Recommending County, the mediation is led by a professional counselor who, at the conclusion of the meeting, will summarize the custody and visitation agreement that was reached between the parents or will provide recommendations to the court on any outstanding issues. Both parties are present in the room with the counselor unless there are allegations of domestic violence and one party has requested separate interviews. The child is not present during a child custody mediation at Family Court Services.
Throughout the child custody mediation, the counselor acts as a neutral between the parties and guides the dialogue with the goal of reaching a resolution that is acceptable to both parties and, most importantly, reflects the best interests of the child(ren).
While parties do not appear with an attorney for a child custody mediation, it is very advisable for parties to consult with an attorney prior to the mediation date. An attorney can assist in the preparation of the proposals and assist in constructing a list of specific concerns about the other party. Choosing a family law attorney who also specializes in mediation is also advisable, so that the attorney is well-suited to act as a trustworthy source of knowledge and information about how to approach the mediation from a strategic perspective as well as advise on how to navigate and manage the complex emotions that accompany the process.
To their detriment, many parties do not think to consult with an attorney prior to a child custody mediation. Instead, they choose to wait until they appear in court. In our experience, this is a big mistake and puts the party at a severe disadvantage.
Prior to the court hearing, the counselor will create a report which outlines the custody arrangement reached by the parties or the counselor’s recommendations for any pending issues; the counselor will provide the report to the court. At the hearing, the judge will review the counselor’s report and then issue court orders.
As such, waiting until you appear in court to retain an attorney is ill-advised, as the counselor has already compiled his or her recommendations based on the discussions that occurred during the child custody mediation. It is in your, and your child(ren)’s, best interest to consult a family law attorney prior to a child custody mediation in order to prepare for this difficult event.
At Klueck and Hoppes APC, we are experienced family law attorneys who can guide you through the process of preparing for a child custody mediation at Family Court Services. We understand that this is a trying and confusing time, but we are here to help. We will listen to your concerns and provide you with tailored advice to guide you through the process. To schedule a consultation, please call our office at (619) 577-4900. We are here for you!