The Mediation Maze

Whenever child custody is an issue, the law requires the parties to attend mediation.  Often times, clients are confused or uncertain as to the ramifications of mediation.

What is the purpose of mediation?  Are you required to reach an agreement in mediation? Are the conversations you have with the mediator kept private from the other party?  These are some of the many issues that arise in a mediation setting.

A mediator is often the first person who hears your side of the story, and therefore it is important to be prepared, especially if it is the first time you have the issue of child custody to be decided by the court.

Mediation is a court ordered meeting between the parties and a neutral third party called a mediator.  The purpose of mediation is the court’s attempt to see if the parties can reach an agreement regarding child custody prior to being heard by the court.  No other issues are heard during mediation.  No agreement is required to be reached.

Usually, a mediator will meet with both parents separately and then with both parents together.  The mediator is tasked with trying to have the parties reach an agreement.  Often times, the mediation plays out like a mini-hearing so it is important to come prepared.  What you tell the mediator is not privileged, so anticipate what you tell the mediator will be relayed to the other party.

There are a few distinctions between the counties; Orange and Los Angeles counties are considered non-recommending counties while Riverside and San Bernardino are recommending counties.  This means that if no agreement is reached, a non-recommending county does not issue any recommendations regarding custody to the court.  In a recommending county, even if there is no agreement reached, the mediator will issue a written recommendation to the court.  In my experience, the court will defer very heavily to the mediator’s recommendation.  All agreements reached are reported to the court in all counties.

No attorneys or other parties are allowed to attend mediation and that is why it is imperative to prepare prior to attending.  I have witnessed many potential clients lose a lot of custody because they were not prepared or they did not know what they were doing.  I do not wish to see any more people fall into this trap.  Mediation can be confusing if you are not ready.  Mediation can also be where you win custody if you are prepared.  One of our clients was so prepared he went from almost zero time, to 50/50 custody without ever going to Court.  Many of our tips are derived from his experience.

Here are some tips to give you the advantage in mediation.

1.  Speak to an attorney.  We can advise you of all the potential pitfalls and what you need to focus on.

2.  Come with a proposal.  The mediator will ask you what you want, if you don’t know, or haven’t thought about it, how can you get what you want?

3.  Back up your case.  After you make your proposal you have to show why. Bring all your pleadings, photos, letters, and proof. For example stating that you do homework with the child is not as persuasive as showing a Parent Teacher Conference Sheet with your signature on it.

4.  Be ready to counter.  The other party will make their case.  You must be prepared to counter each argument they make.  Read their declarations and decide how to address it. For example, if the other party claims you don’t feed the children, show the mediator a picture of you cooking with the children.  Not only will you show that you actually do feed the children, you will destroy the other party’s credibility.

5.  Know the lay of the land.  It is important to know where the mediation office is and what time your appointment is.  The last thing you want is to be late or not show up.

6.  Know the game.  Although the mediator is a neutral third party, they hear both sides and then prepare an agreement or recommendation they think both sides should sign.  That is why it is important to have the mediator on your side trying to convince the other parent to agree with your proposal.  Not the other way around.

I hope these general tips will help you in your case and we are always open to help you discuss these issues in further detail.