Preparing for your Custody and Visitation Mediation
In most counties, when you file a request to establish or modify custody and visitation of minor children, you are required to attend mediation with Family Court Services.
What is Mediation?
The mediation process is where both parents are given the opportunity to work with a mediator in order to attempt to reach an agreement regarding your children, including Legal Custody, Physical Custody, Visitation Timeshare, and Holiday Schedule. The process can take several hours and requires each parent to complete a Parent Orientation online.
Mediation however, will NOT address child support or any issues related to your divorce.
San Mateo is a Recommending county. This means, that if the parents are unable to reach a complete agreement, the mediator will make recommendations regarding issues related to custody and visitation of your children. Again, the mediator will not make any recommendations regarding child support or your divorce. The mediator’s recommendations are very important. The mediators are trusted professionals and their recommendations will be read by the judge in your case. Most times, these recommendations will be made into custody and visitation orders. Orders, once made by a judge, are difficult to change.
How Can I Prepare for Mediation
As the mediator’s recommendations will likely be made into custody and visitation orders, you want to make sure that you are prepared before you participate in mediation.
First, you must complete a Parent Orientation program online. The program can be viewed on the court’s website. For San Mateo County, it is located at https://www.sanmateocourt.org/documents/family_court_services/fcs_orientation.pdf. If you do not have access to a computer at home, you may make an appointment with Family Court Services to complete the orientation at the courthouse. Once you complete the orientation, you will be able to print a certificate as proof of completion. You should take the certificate with you to your mediation appointment.
You will receive a confirmation of the date and time of your mediation by mail, along with an information form. This form will ask you basic information regarding your contact information, your lawyer’s information (if you have one) and your case. Complete the form before you attend mediation as you will give the form to the mediator assigned to your case.
Remember that the court will make orders of custody and visitation that are in the best interest of your children. Therefore, any requests regarding custody and a visitation schedule that you make must be because you believe they are in the best interest of your children.
If the parents are unable to reach agreements, the mediator may propose agreements. However, it is very important, that if you are not completely in agreement with each and every proposed agreement that the mediator or the other parent is suggesting, that you politely state that you do not agree. If you make any agreements at the mediation, the judge will likely enforce those agreements as an order. Therefore, once you agree, it is very difficult to change that agreement if the other parent is not in agreement to make any changes.
You must remember that the mediator will make recommendations when there is not a complete agreement. Therefore, it is necessary that you do not lose your temper or become angry. It is possible that the other parent may get under your skin, but you must be sure to keep calm and remember that you are there because you want the mediator to know what you think is best for your children. You should avoid making requests in a way that will make the mediator think you are solely thinking of yourself rather than what is in your children’s best interest.
What Happens After the Mediation?
After your appointment, the mediator will write a report that records any agreements that you and the other parent reach. The report will also include recommendations on any issues in which you do not reach an agreement. The judge will see these agreements and recommendations at your next hearing. As stated, the judge will very likely adopt the agreements and recommendations as orders.
The mediator may take up to three weeks to complete the report. The report will be sent to each parent by mail and to the judge. Sometimes, the mediator may not complete the report until the day of your hearing. Unfortunately, this may put you in a difficult position, as you may not have enough time to review the recommendations and your agreements. If this happens, you may request time to review the report before your case is heard. If you feel like you need more time, you may request that the judge continue the hearing to another day, to allow you more time to review the report. Ultimately, it is up to the judge whether or not to give you a continuance. Moreover, the judge may make temporary orders that will be effective until you return to court for your next hearing.
Ultimately, the purpose of mediation is to determine what is in the best interest of your children. You should participate fully and make sure that you do not leave a bad impression with the mediator. The mediator plays a very important role in your custody and visitation case. Therefore, remember that any proposed agreements made by you are made because you truly believe it is best for your children and not simply because you are trying to hurt the other parent.
Our attorney is available on a consultation basis to help prepare you for mediation.. Please contact us or schedule an appointment online if you would like further preparation for your mediation.