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Five Things to Know About Court-Ordered Mediation in CA Custody Matters

Ideally, in any California divorce or other family law matter involving the custody of a child, the parents themselves will be able to voluntarily create an agreement which will determine, among other things: 1) whether one or both parties will have sole or shared physical custody of the child; 2) what schedule the physical custody arrangement (and/or any visitation) will adhere to; and 3) how the parents will make important decisions on the child’s behalf relating to issues such as education and medical, also called “legal custody” which can also be sole or shared.

When the parents cannot reach a voluntary settlement agreement on custody on their own, a California family court will order that they attend mediation with a California family law mediator, if they have not already done so. Here are five things to understand about this process.  

The Judge Must Order Mediation Prior to a Contested Hearing

Although judges have wide discretion to make decisions in a number of areas related to family law, whether to order mediation is not one of them. Judges are mandated by California law to require that parents attend court-ordered mediation before any contested hearings can occur in court over custody.

You Will Have Time to Prepare With Your Attorney

Mediation is an informal process, meaning that it will not follow the more strict rules of family law court. The parents are encouraged to be candid and creative with one another in reaching an agreement, but it is an important legal process nonetheless and you will want to be prepared.

The judge in your matter will give you reasonable time to adequately prepare with your attorney for the mediation hearing. Among other things, you and your own attorney will want to discuss your goals, what you’re willing to concede, any family history or other issues relevant to the custody matter, and what evidence is available to bolster their arguments and goals.

The Mediation Will Be Confidential

Unlike many family law proceedings which take place in a courtroom, the mediation process is a confidential one for all involved, all in the name of encouraging candor and openness between the parties.

You may be able to bring a support person to the mediation such as a family member or friend (although this will ultimately be up to the mediator and the parties themselves), and they will subject to the confidentiality requirement as well.

Your Attorney May Attend, Subject to the Mediator’s Discretion

Your attorney may attend the mediation session with you, and many parents do indeed choose to bring their attorneys along for ongoing counsel and advice. That said, the mediator may choose to exclude attorneys from certain portions of the mediation to encourage collaborative conversation between the parents.

The Parents and Not the Mediator Will Determine Whether Mediation Works

Ultimately, the mediator’s job is not to dictate a custody arrangement between the parents but to facilitate an agreement that both parents voluntarily enter into. Oftentimes, this comes down to the parents’ willingness to work with one another and make concessions. If an agreement is not reached, the dispute will proceed to a contested hearing. At that point, the judge may ask the mediator to submit findings from the mediation and/or testify, although such information will be subject to confidentiality requirements.

Get Answers to Your California Family Law Questions

At Kearney | Baker in Pasadena, we represent spouses through all aspects of the dissolution/divorce process and also serve as mediators. Our partners, Brian A. Baker and Gary W. Kearney, are both Family Law Specialists, as certified by the California State Bar. To schedule a consultation regarding any questions about family law in California, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker today at 626-768-2945.

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