• Mediation and Child Custody

Mediation and Child Custody

Will you be attending mediation to discuss child custody issues in California? Read on to learn more information about the mediation and child custody process in California. We discuss what to expect during mediation, and provide important tips on how to approach mediation to obtain the best results!

Mandatory Mediation in California Custody and Visitation Disputes

Most California family law courts have a department called Family Court Services. Family Court Services provides mediation services to help resolve disagreements between parents regarding custody and visitation and other issues concerning the children. Click here to find the Family Court Services program in your county.

Mediation and child custody go hand-in-hand in contested California custody matters, however, the process can differ greatly from county-to-county. In many California counties, attorneys are not allowed to be present during mediation, therefore there is little benefit to hire an attorney for this process. Some counties have specific local rules that define how the mediation process works for their county. For example, Ventura county has established Local Rules 9.30-9.35 which outline its mediation procedures. The Local Rules for Ventura county not only require both parties to attend mediation, but also any children over age six who are the subject of the dispute (LR 9.32F).  Because of these differences between the counties, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the mediation process in the county in which your case is filed.

Family Code Section 3170 requires the parties to attend mediation if there are contested issues pertaining to the children. In addition to mediation, some courts also require the parents to attend a pre-mediation or parenting class. Currently the parties who utilize the services of the mediators from Family Court Services do not have to pay for the mediators, although this was not always the case.

Mediation and Child Custody Through The Courts

The filing of a Request for Order (RFO) with the Family Law Court requesting custody and/or visitation orders or modification of an existing custody or visitation order is the “trigger” that allows a date for court mediation to be set. The purpose of mediation is to try and resolve the dispute before the matter goes in front of a judge for a formal hearing. If the parties cannot agree in mediation, the judge will make an order at a hearing.

In most courts, the mediator makes their recommendations to the judge about child custody, visitation and other issues pertaining to the children. If the parents are unable to reach a parenting plan agreement through mediation, the mediator will provide the court with their written recommendation and opinion. This recommendation will include a suggested parenting arrangement the mediator believes will be in the children’s best interest. Both parents will be given a copy of the recommendation. In the majority of cases, the judge will typically issue an order consistent with the mediator’s recommendation.

Although less common, in some courts mediation is confidential and the mediator does NOT make a recommendation to the court. Mediation in counties that offer non-recommended mediation services have no effect on the judge’s final decision should the matter go to hearing,

The goals of mediation are to:

  1. Help to create a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children.
  2. Help create a parenting plan that promotes the children spending time with both parents.
  3. Offer solutions and/or suggestions to make the parenting plan successful.

How Does Mediation Work in Child Custody?

Mediation allows parents to come together to discuss important issues regarding child custody, visitation, and support. The mediation process as a whole is straightforward and it typically involves the following procedures:

1. Initial Meeting with the Mediator

During the initial meeting with the mediator, roles regarding all of the parties will be discussed. For example, the mediator will discuss how he/she will act as a neutral party in helping the parents resolve any issues they have regarding child custody and visitation. The mediator will likely inform the parties about the different discussion techniques he/she will use, and what will happen in the event the parties do not reach an agreement.

2. Identify Issues Regarding Child Custody

Next, the mediator will discuss issues regarding child custody and visitation during the meeting. Contested issues have usually been outlined in either the moving or responsive paperwork filed with the court prior to the parties attending the mediation. During the mediation process, there may be other issues that one or both parties might want to bring up. The mediator will go over the issues and assign an allotted time in discussing each one. Each party will have a chance to express his/her concerns regarding each issue.

3. Discuss Child Custody Solutions

After all the issues are laid out, the mediator will ask the parties how they would like to resolve each issue. Often the mediator speaks with each party privately, and then may bring the parties together for one final discussion. The mediator will not provide solutions directly on how to resolve the issues, but provide the parties with communication tools to do so amongst themselves.

4. Prepare A Child Custody Agreement

If a solution is reached, the mediator will help the parties formalize it in an agreement. The mediator usually helps prepare the agreement. Do not sign the agreement without first reviewing it to ensure it reflects the parties resolutions.

What Does A Mediator Do in Child Custody?

As mentioned above, a mediator acts as a neutral third-party during mediation. He/she helps parents come to a resolution regarding their child custody and visitation issues by providing them with communication tools to help resolve any underlying problems. Mediators do not provide legal advice or tell parents what to do in deciding child custody issues. The mediator will identify issues and assign an allotted time for the parties to discuss them in order to reach a resolution. In addition, at the conclusion of the session, if the parties have resolved their issues, the mediator will prepare an agreement. If the parties were not able to reach an agreement the mediator may, in “recommending counties,”  prepare a formal recommendation to to submit to the judge for consideration and ruling.

How To Prepare For Child Custody Mediation

As a parent, it is essential that you prepare for your child custody mediation session. Attend mediation with an open mind. Do not go to mediation believing that there is only one solution to resolve your issues. Most importantly, make sure you listen to what the other parent has to say, especially his/her concerns. Come prepared with several options on how to resolve your issues.

What to Say in Custody Mediation

Typically the parties meet with the mediator one-on-one. After this, there may be an opportunity for both parties to meet with the mediator together. Do not verbally attack the other parent during mediation. Doing so can create a hostile environment and lead to a breakdown in the discussion. Speak with words that reflect positive cooperation such as using the words “our child” vs “my child.” If you feel that you are becoming frustrated with the other parent, ask to take a break to recollect your thoughts and feelings.

What to Bring to Custody Mediation

Bring the following items to your child custody mediation:

  1. Any existing court orders
  2. A list of issues you would like discussed
  3. The right attitude
  4. A list of resolutions to your issues

Child Custody Mediation Tips

The following tips can also help you during your child custody mediation:

  1. Remember to identify your child’s needs and provide resolutions that will meet them.
  2. Do not talk negative about the other parent or his/her loved ones.
  3. Do not let your feelings cloud your judgment when making custody or visitation decisions.
  4. Make sure you are ready to discuss a parenting plan.
  5. Be flexible in developing a parenting plan that meets the needs of your children and reasonably accommodates each parent.

Contact A People’s Choice for more information on how to prepare for child custody mediation in California.

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By |2018-01-18T15:47:19-07:00October 19th, 2015|Family Law|9 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. Joey May 7, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    How long does it take to receive the mediators suggestion after the actual mediation? Also, do I receive the suggestion via mail?

    • Sandy McCarthy May 8, 2018 at 7:42 pm

      Usually a mediator makes a recommendation right away. Is this private mediation?

  2. Latesha Polson July 31, 2016 at 2:20 am

    Hi Sandra
    Excellent post about Child Custody mediation. I think meditation is the very much important part of the child’s future. Because in that place both parents come together to discuss their parenting and visitation time. If the both parents agree to the parenting terms then in future they work together for their child’s success without any major disputes.


  3. Justin Knox July 8, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Thank you for the help. I have a friend that is currently fighting for child custody. I agree with your emphasis on the child’s needs. How can I best help remind him of that through this process?

    • Sandy McCarthy July 9, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      This court website has some great information regarding needs of children whose parents are going through divorce. It gives a variety of suggestions about how to co-parent children of different ages, even when the parents may not agree. You friend may find it helpful.

  4. Megan Earl June 27, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Getting child custody can be tricky, but so worth it! I think it’s so important to do your research before you try and battle for custody. I really liked what you said about preparing a custody agreement. Does the winning party get more say than the loosing party in this agreement, or is it mostly up to the mediator?

    • Sandy McCarthy July 9, 2016 at 7:31 pm

      Often no one wins when custody is determined by a judge. It is always in the parents’ and children’s best interest to work out an agreement between themselves that everyone can live with. Parents can sign an agreement after the mediation process without ever appearing before a Judge. In California, most Judges will simply “rubber stamp” the mediator’s recommendation. When parents sign their own agreed-upon custody agreement, there is no winning or losing party. Both parents win because they both have given and taken a bit to come up with a resolution of their own.

  5. Laurie May 11, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    I definitely think that mediation should be tried before taking the issues to court. You need to put your own feelings aside and have the best interests of your child/children in mind. Great information, thanks for sharing!

    • Sandy McCarthy May 12, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Mediation is always a great way to attempt to resolve child custody and visitation issues. The problem is that many people do not have the funds to hire a private mediator. When a person filed a motion regarding these issues, the court will provide free mediation which is typically mandatory in these types of matters. Therefore, the filing of the motion is required in order for the parties to be able to make use of the court’s free mediation services.

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