1. What is FCS Mediation?
Family Court Services (FCS) provides child custody recommended counseling in family law cases when separating or divorcing parents cannot agree on a child custody sharing plan. Child custody recommended counseling is provided in a private counseling office with a trained court counselor. The FCS conference allows both parents to work together toward a mutually acceptable agreement which is in the best interest of their children. The court counselor will evaluate the case and make a recommendation to the Judge regarding child custody and visitation if the parents are unable to reach an agreement.
2. Is mediation required?
In any dissolution matter regarding child custody and visitation where there is a dispute, Family Code section §3170 mandates that the case be set for child custody recommending counseling prior to the court hearing. Mediation has been required in California for divorcing parents regarding child custody and visitation since 1981.
3. What topics will be discussed in Mediation?
The main topic is child custody and visitation. This includes legal custody and physical custody arrangements. In making a parenting plan, topics such as birthdays, holidays, and summer vacation can be determined by a visitation schedule agreed upon by the parents. Topics such as child support, spousal support, and property division are not usually addressed but agreements can be drafted through your attorney if decided upon mutually by the parents.
4. What are the evaluators looking at in each case?
Custody evaluators look at the best interest of the child and the child’s bio-psycho-social history and needs. They look at the family routines with each parent; level of cooperation between the parents; areas of agreement and disagreement; and geographical distance between homes. They also look at the interplay of these factors along with any pertinent risk factors such as domestic violence, restraining orders, substance abuse, mental health issues, criminal history, and child abuse.
5. How long does the mediation take?
Depending on the various points of disagreement, the mediation can take anywhere between 1 hour and 4 hours. During the session, the custody evaluator will speak with each parent and if found necessary, will interview the child(ren) as well. The evaluator will write up the report if there is an agreement, or will make a recommendation to the court on the issues not mutually agreed upon.
6. Do I get to participate in the decision making?
Yes. It is encouraged that you participate as much as possible. Participation in the mediation process is said to increase compliance with the agreement in the long term. It reduces conflict in the family, and encourages communication between the parents. It gives you, as a parent, the chance to decide what is best for your child, rather than allowing a Judge to make the decision for you.
7. What if I have concerns about the other parent?
The custody evaluator will ask each parent individually if they have any concerns about the other parent such as child abuse or neglect, drug and alcohol problems, living arrangements, lack of work, mental health issues or anything else pertaining to the health and welfare of the child when they are in the care of that parent. Make sure to be honest about your concerns so the custody evaluator can include those in his or her report for the Judge.
8. Can I ever modify the agreement?
Yes. You can return to FCS when circumstances change or the parenting plan is not working. However, the court asks the parents to do their best to implement the plan for at least 6 months before returning to FCS. If a parent needs to request a modification prior to 6 months, he or she must appear before the Judge to make the request and obtain a court order.
9. What if any resources are available to help children cope with divorce?
Child counseling, supervised visitation, supervised exchanges, programs such as Kids Turn and handouts/books for parents regarding helping children cope with divorce.
10. What are some of the recommendations made by the evaluator for parents?
Recommendations for parents have included: individual and family counseling, co-parenting classes, high conflict resolution and education classes, anger management classes, domestic violence support groups, supervised visitation, substance abuse assessments, psychological evaluations, 12 step meetings, drug testing and various transportation restrictions.
To contact an attorney regarding any questions about preparing for Family Court Services or for representation in your divorce case, call the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford at (858) 793-8884. We can help you and your family through this difficult time. We stride to provide you with quality representation that gets you results.