Friday, September 08, 2006

Court-Based Custody Mediation

In a custody dispute (whether the parents were married or not and whether in the context of a divorce or not), many parents find themselves in court waging an emotional, stressful and painful fight over the parental rights of their children. These disputes include whether Legal Custody will be shared or not, whether Physical Custody will be shared or not, and what the regular and holiday visitation schedule will be for both parents.

Since 1981, California law has required parents to go through mandatory court-based mediation with court-employed Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs), who are also trained as mediators, to attempt informal resolution on all custody and visitation issues before a judge will hear the arguments of the parents and make any decisions.

When the parents cannot come to an agreement on their disputes with the help of the court mediator, the parents' next step is typically a contested court hearing where the judge will make the decisions which the parties could not make between themselves. This involves not only more time, and more money for attorneys' fees, but it also removes the parties' power to make their own decisions and places that power in the hands of the judge who knows very little about the parties, the children and everyone's lives and needs.

While court-based custody mediation is mandatory for all custody and visitation disputes, any other related issues, including child support, spousal support, reimbursement issues or valuation and division of any property, is not permitted to even be discussed in custody mediation provided by the courts. Family Court Services mediators are strictly limited in the issues they can discuss and work with the parties to resolve.

On the other hand, the private mediation services I provide for families includes custody and visitation issues (i.e., preparing a parenting plan and visitation schedule with the parties, focusing on the children's best interests) but also includes all the other related financial issues which arise in custody cases as well as the often concurrent divorce (i.e., support, reimbursement and property issues). I help parties to resolve all of their issues by listening to both sides, helping to find creative solutions, improving communication and ensuring that the solutions conform to California laws, based on my experience as a Family Law attorney and mediator.

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