In San Diego County, attendance at mediation is mandatory if you have filed a motion for child custody and/or visitation with the Court. When filing the motion (Request for Order), the Court will give you two dates; a hearing date and a mediation date. Unless you elect to use private mediation (which you pay for separately and must have the other parent’s agreement), you will be required to attend mediation with Family Court Services (also referred to as “FCS”). Family Court Services is located inside each branch courthouse in San Diego. Each mediation session lasts anywhere from 1 – 3 hours.
The outcome of your mediation session with Family Court Services will be critical to your child custody and visitation case. In San Diego, the Court gives significant weight to the mediator’s recommendations. Thus, it is highly recommended that you prepare in advance for your mediation session so you know what to expect. Follow these critical tips:
- Attire: Business casual attire is appropriate for mediation. Remember – It is better to be overdressed than underdressed! Avoid shorts, flip flops, tank tops, ripped clothing, etc. Keep in mind that, while the judge will not be present, you are still making an impression on the mediator, who communicates that impression to the judge.
- Attendance: Your mediation appointment is mandatory. Thus, do not be late or fail to appear at the scheduled time. If an emergency arises that prohibits you from attending, you must contact the mediator’s office prior to your scheduled appointment to let them know. The Court can issue monetary sanctions against you for failing to appear. Additionally, the Court will likely not make any child custody orders until you have attended a mediation session. Thus, it is best to attend the first scheduled session.
- Be Respectful: It goes without saying that you should be respectful of the mediator, but you should also be respectful of the other party. The mediator will be looking at how you treat and react to the other party. Thus, be courteous when he/she is speaking. Do not interrupt, yell, name call, etc. Even if the other parent is acting inappropriately, do not take the bait – remain respectful and courteous at all times.
- Remain Focused on Child: Focus on the “best interests” of the child rather than attacking the other parent. The mediator wants to see that you thinking about the child and what is best for him/her. The mediator does not want to hear about personal issues you have with the other parent.
- Present a Parenting Plan: Provide the mediator with your requested parenting plan. This includes how you propose splitting time with the child during the week, as well as holidays. For example, rather than saying, “I want equal time,” say, “I propose that I have every Monday and Tuesday, the other parent have every Wednesday and Thursday, and we alternate weekends.” The mediator will also ask where you want to exchange the child (when exchanges do not occur at school or day care), how long each parent can take the child for vacation each year, whether you want a set phone call time with the child when he/she is in the other parent’s care, etc. You should come prepared with answers to these questions rather than thinking about them for the first time during mediation.
- Be Concise: Don’t spend too much time on any one particular issue. If the counselor is interested, they will inquire further about that particular point. This does not mean that you should skip over issues though. Mediation is your one chance to voice your concerns, so do so in a clear and concise manner.
- Be Honest: During mediation, issues may come up about your past that you need to address (i.e. a DUI from several years ago, prior drug use, an arrest, etc.). Be prepared to discuss these issues rather than acting as if they never occurred. Explain to the mediator how you have changed and what you are doing to ensure those issues never re-occur.
- Do Not Bring Children to Mediation Session: There should only be three people present during the mediation session – you, the other parent, and the mediator. If the mediator wants to talk to the child, he/she will make a specific request to meet with them at a later date. If you need child care during your mediation appointment, call the Family Court Services office in advance to see if the child care facility will be open during your session.
- Do Not Bring Third Parties to Mediation Session: As mentioned above, there should only be three people at your mediation session. Thus, do not bring a third party to the session with you. This includes family members, adult children, and especially new significant others. The only exception to this policy is if your matter involves domestic violence with the other parent, in which case you are allowed to bring a support person to the mediation session.
- Do Not Mix Money Matters With Parenting Issues: If the counselor believes that the dispute concerning a parenting plan has anything to do with child support, you will lose credibility. Do not mention percentage of parenting time – that is a “buzz word” that is used for calculating child support. Additionally, do not bring up any other money issues, including spousal support, property division or attorney’s fees. The mediator is only allowed to make recommendations regarding child custody and visitation.
If you have never been to child custody mediation, it is highly recommended that you seek advice from an experienced family law attorney. You can also attend a Parent Orientation meeting at the courthouse prior to your session, during which you will obtain general information regarding child custody and Family Court matters. Click here for more information on when the Parent Orientations are held. Additionally, you should watch the Family Court Services Orientation Video prior to your session. The video will be shown at the start of your session, but it is good to watch beforehand as well. Click here to view the video. You only get one shot at mediation, so make sure you are prepared!