In California, before a judge hears your custody matter you are required to attend a mandatory court-ordered mediation session (sometimes known as “conciliation”). The session takes place at the courthouse with a licensed therapist who also serves as a mediator.
The mediator is there only to discuss issues of custody; they won’t address other issues such as child-support or any other financial issues.
The purpose of this mediation session is for you to try to resolve your custody dispute directly with the other parent with the assistance of a court-appointed mediator. The mediator is there only to discuss issues of custody; they won’t address other issues such as child-support or any other financial issues.
If you are represented by counsel, your attorney is not allowed to participate in this mediation — you will be there on your own. However, if there has been any documented history of domestic violence, you may bring a support person to court with you. You may also request to meet separately from the other parent, meaning that you don’t need to be in the same room with him or her.
Unless you are specifically instructed by the court or the mediator to bring your children, do not bring your children with you to mediation. Generally, the mediators do not want to speak to the children. It’s best not to bring your children to court or to take them out of school for this purpose.
In most jurisdictions, mediation is confidential, meaning that if you don’t reach an agreement regarding custody, the mediator cannot tell the court anything that was divulged during mediation. However, in some jurisdictions, if the parents don’t reach an agreement the mediator will make specific recommendations to the judge as to what custody arrangement should be put into place. It’s critical you know what type of mediation is offered in your county and which one you will be participating in – confidential or recommending.
Handling a Mediation When Violence and Safety is an Issue
Mediation could require that both parties in a divorce case or child custody case be present in the same room. However, if either party is fearful of the other party the mediator will make arrangements with the mediator to keep the parties in separate rooms.
If you are accused of violence or potential violence, do your best to keep your conduct low key. Regardless of how unfair other people may be, it’s important that you refrain from confrontation. This type of behavior is ineffective.
Instead, keep your voice low and do not interrupt others when they are speaking. It’s best that you say very little and respond to direct questions with short answers. Keep a pleasant facial expression and control your body language.