What is Family Court Services Mediation and what are the benefits?

California law requires that anytime the parents disagree as to a parenting plan for their children, the parties are required to meet with a Family Court Services mediator. This is a free service where the mediator meets with the parents together or individually to try to develop a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children. If the parties cannot agree to a plan, the court will decide. The mediators usually have a graduate degree and know how the family court system works. The mediator’s job is to:

  • Listen to both of you.
  • Be neutral.
  • Help you look at different options.
  • Help you decide when the children will be with each parent.
  • Help you decide how future decisions about your children will be made.
  • Help you consider the best way to protect your children’s safety and welfare.

Family Court Services mediation may help parents to understand the court process as it pertains to their children and resolve the issues concerning parenting. As some judicial officers note, parents are in a better position to determine what custody plans are in the best interests of the children than the judicial officer who has heard from them for sometimes less than an hour.

What Is Child Custody Recommending Counseling (CCRC)?

Some counties in California are recommending counties. This means that the Family Court Services mediator, after meeting with the parents, reviewing the court file and conducting any ancillary interviews or document review deemed necessary, makes a recommendation to the judicial officer in the parents’ court case if the parties cannot agree on a custody plan. The Family Court Services mediator in a “Non-Recommending County” provides no information to the judicial officer (although the mediator can recommend a custody evaluation or investigation where warranted).

How Should Parents Navigate CCRC?

Keep in mind that what you say and how you act in CCRC may be reported to the judicial officer. Make sure your appropriate pleadings and declarations are filed with the court prior to mediation, so that the mediator can review them. Come prepared to discuss a custody plan that is in your children’s best interest. Think about being child focused in your comments instead of self-serving. You can bring and refer to notes to help you in your discussion.

Get a good night’s sleep and make sure you have eaten. Lack of sleep and hunger can distract from the issues at hand.

Dress appropriately. Conservative business casual is the rule. Do not show up in sweats or shorts.

Be polite during mediation. Do not interrupt the other parent or the mediator. If the other parent is making false statements, wait for your turn to speak, then calmly inform the mediator. Let the mediator guide the discussion. You may be assertive, but not aggressive.

Do not be accusatory. When you need to point out wrongdoing by the other parent (e.g. drug/physical abuse, lack of parenting skills, impossible work schedule, etc.), couch your comments in child focused statements, rather than inflammatory remarks.

What are common mistakes parents make in CCRC?

Common mistakes parents make in CCRC include:

  • Making comments that are “me” focused instead of “child focused”. For example, statements like, “They’re my children” (as opposed to “our children”) and “I have rights, too” have no place in CCRC – or in court, for that matter.
  • Talking over the other parent instead of calmly waiting for your turn to speak.
  • Acting intimidating/aggressive in an effort to be assertive.
  • Not allowing the mediator to take control of the meeting.
  • Making accusatory statements about the other parent without being child focused. For example, saying “my partner is a raging drunk”, as opposed to “I know my partner loves our children, but right now, drinking is more important”, then explaining to the mediator the circumstances.
  • Not bringing notes or bullet points as to subjects that need to be discussed, e.g., domestic abuse, abandonment, drug or alcohol abuse, specific incidents indicating parenting issues, etc. It is way too easy to forget the pertinent issues that need to be covered without some reminders.

Additional Resources About CCRC and Child Custody

Why Do Custody Disagreements to Go to Trial?
How to Prepare for a Custody Hearing
How to Prepare for a Deposition in a Divorce or Custody Case
What Is Legal Vs Physical Custody