In any child custody dispute in California, mediation is mandatory per California Family Code 3170.
Mediation is considered to be a form of alternative dispute resolution and it is this form of resolving differences of opinion that is used in California to settle child custody and visitation disputes. This lets the parents have the chance to try and get their differences sorted out without having to go to court and have the judge intervene in the affair.
Mandatory mediation means that if you file for an Order to Show Cause hearing requesting initial child custody and visitation orders or modification of existing custody/visitation orders, the court orders that the parties attend a mediation session at the courthouse on a date prior to the hearing date.
When it comes to mediation, there aren’t too many mysteries, as it’s a fairly straightforward process. Both sides get to discuss their problems and concerns, and the mediator helps them meet in the middle and find a resolution that works for both parties. Put another way, the whole purpose of mediation in a nutshell is to assist the parents embroiled in a child custody argument to resolve their disagreements and focus on creating a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children.
Just because mediation is considered to be mandatory doesn’t always means that the process will work. Some of the cases that do come to mediation in California are far too complex or communications have totally broken down between the divorcing couple and they refuse to speak to one another.
There are other instances when even though a mediation agreement has been signed, the other party changes their mind. The agreement may be altered if a written cancellation request is given to the mediator. Rather than take any chances that things may go wrong at this stage, it’s wise to consult with an expert family attorney to find out what is required to cancel and what time constraints you may be under.
While mediators can do a lot of things, there are just as many things that they cannot do. It is for this reason that you should speak to a highly qualified attorney and find out the limits of mediation. If mediation doesn’t work, then there is always recourse to the courts. Just bear in mind that particular route does cost more and needs expert legal representation.
It is highly advised that you consult with a California child custody attorney to prepare you for your mediation, because each county handles custody mediations differently. In Orange County, for example, if nothing is agreed in mediation, that is the end of it and the parties continue to hearing.
In the Inland Empire, such as Riverside and San Bernardino County, even if the parties are unable to work out an agreement in mediation, the mediators there are empowered to make custody/visitation recommendations to the judge, based on only having met with the parties for one hour. The court can and often times does adopt those recommendations as a court order! So it is extremely important to take the mediation seriously and is also why having skilled legal counsel is highly advised.