All contested child custody and visitation issues must be referred to mediation. Domestic violence cases that involve disputed custody and visitation rights are also referred to mediation but are handled by the Family Court Services and are subject to a different procedure. In such cases, there may be additional services beyond mediation such as referral to community resources, video recordings, parent education programs or informational booklets. If a stepparent or grandparent has applied for visitation rights, the matter must also be referred to mediation. Mediation services are available even if the issue before the court is the paternity of the child.
Purpose of Mediation
The purpose of mediation is three-fold:
- Reduce any acrimony that may exist between parties.
- Develop an agreement that will ensure that the child will have a close and continuing contact with both parents.
- Bring about the settlement of visitation rights that is in the child’s best interest.
The role of the mediator is to assess the child’s needs and interests. The mediator is expected to exert his/her best efforts in bringing about the settlement of the custody or visitation dispute that will be in the child’s best interest.
The mediator may be a professional staff member of the family conciliation court, probation department, or mental health services agency, or any other person designated by the court. At the very least, the assigned mediator must meet the following minimum qualifications:
- A Master’s Degree in psychology, social work, marriage, family and child counseling, or other behavioral science substantially related to marriage and family interpersonal relationships.
- Must have at least two years of experience in counseling or psychotherapy.
- Must have knowledge of the court system of California and the procedures used in family law cases.
- Must have knowledge of other resources in the community that clients can be referred to for assistance.
- Must have knowledge of adult psychopathology and the psychology of families.
- Knowledge of child development, child abuse, clinical issues relating to children, the effects of divorce on children, the effects of domestic violence on children, and child custody research.
- Training in domestic violence issues.
Two types of Mediation
The type of mediation depends on the rules of the county where mediation is to be done. As such it may either be called “Child Custody Recommending Counselling” or simply “Mediation”.
Child Custody Recommending Counseling
In Roseville, child custody recommending counseling exists in counties where the local rules provide that the mediation may result in a recommendation regarding custody and visitation. The mediator, in this case, is called the “Child Custody Recommending Counselor.” The counselor can make a recommendation regarding child custody or visitation, provided that the counselor has first provided the parties with a copy of the recommendation in writing. A mediator’s recommendation is considered as evidence and it must be weighed with all other relevant evidence. In the end, it is still the court that decides the custody or visitation issues.
Mediation in counties that do not have local rules providing for “child custody recommending counseling,” the process is simply called ‘mediation’. In this case, the mediator does not make recommendations upon the court. The mediator simply reports to the court whether the parties have reached an agreement. If there is an agreement, the mediator reports the terms of the agreement.
Subject of Mediation
When the mediation involves a contested issue of custody or visitation, the agreement must be limited to the resolution of issues relating to parenting plans. Parenting plans may refer to how the parents will share and divide their decision-making and care-taking responsibilities to protect the health, safety, welfare and the best interest of the child.
When a stepparent or grandparent seeks visitation, the agreement must be limited to resolving issues related to that visitation.