Court-ordered child custody mediation vs. private child custody mediation
Experts agree that the long-term damage to children of divorce comes not from the divorce itself, but from the conflict and tension surrounding it.
As a result, the State of California requires families seeking a custody arrangement to first try mediation or custody counseling at the courthouse before any judge can proceed with any hearing concerning child custody issues.
If the spouses filing for divorce have already worked with their own mediator to establish a parenting plan, the judge will review the plan and, in many cases, formalize it as a court order. If the spouses do not have an agreement, the court will require parents to attend at least one session with a family court mediator.
Some families instead choose to hire a private mediator for their child custody arrangements.
What happens with a family court mediator?
If ordered to see the family court mediator, the court will provide the parents with an appointment. Typically, this appointment takes place on a single day and lasts 1.5 to two hours. In most cases, children do not attend the session. Mediation is limited to custody and parenting schedule issues only.
If, during this session, it becomes clear that the parents will be unable to agree, the mediator informs the judge, and the custody issue goes back to the court as a matter to be litigated.
When the parents are able to agree, the mediator will write up a parenting plan at the end of the session and give it to the judge. Occasionally, the mediator will permit more than one session in order to finish discussing and writing the plan.
Why choose a private mediator instead?
When a family hires its own mediator, they gain more control over the custody mediation process.
The court mediator will not discuss child support or any other issues surrounding the divorce. As such, it is less likely that the parenting plan developed fits well with the overall agreements made for the divorce. A private mediator can address all issues relevant to a couple’s situation.
It is important to remember that in California, family courts are overloaded with families and cases to process. Although the mediators are highly trained individuals, they must also be expedient. With a personally selected mediator, a divorcing family can choose how much time to spend on each issue.
Your child and your family will benefit if you feel confident that you have developed a plan that is genuinely right for your child without rush or undue pressure.
To learn more about the divorce process in California and how mediation can help, please visit our page, “What is Divorce Mediation.”