If you are unhappy with your current custody plan, or need to create a new one, you may ask the court for assistance. To do that, you will need to file a Request for Order with the local court. Immediately upon filing the Request, you will receive a date to attend Family Court Services mediation.
Family Court Services mediation is a free service, through the courts, usually staffed by licensed clinical social workers. Their only job is to help parents, in your position, to reach an agreement regarding custody and visitation. Parents are required to attend Family Court Services mediation prior to court to give informal resolution every possible chance of success prior to resorting to litigation.
How Does Family Court Services Mediation Work?
Each parent speaks with the mediator. You may be interviewed together or individually. If the mediator thinks it would be helpful, your children may be interviewed as well. You will talk about your children and what you believe is in their best interest. Each parent meets the mediator for about an hour. The mediator has broad discretion and can speak with third parties (known as “collateral contacts”) such as therapists, teachers, principals, psychologists, physicians, sports coaches, child welfare, or anyone who can shed light on how the parenting plan can best serve the child.
Take this process seriously. This is the only chance you will have to get your side of the story directly to the court without lawyers, papers or courtrooms.
If you reach an agreement with the other parent during Family Court Services mediation, the mediator will write down the agreement and provide it to the parties and to the court. If you cannot agree to a parenting plan, the mediator will prepare a written report with recommendations that will be given to each parent and directly to your assigned Judge. Many family law judges rely heavily on the recommendations made by the mediator. The recommendations in this report often set the tone for the custody case.
Because the courts rely so heavily on the recommendation, a bad report can be harmful. Be prepared. If you need help preparing for mediation, JWB Family Law can help.
Tips for Family Court Services Mediation
- Mediation is about your child. It is important you stay focused on your child and their best interest. Now is not the time to indulge your feelings about the other parent.
- DO Acknowledge the other parent—your children are not yours alone.
- DO Acknowledge children do best when there are two active parents in their lives. It must be “our children” not “my children.” Listen to the other parent’s ideas and have a discussion during mediation. Complement the good and politely adjust the bad.
- DO make a list of any specific concerns about the other parent so that these concerns or issues can be addressed during mediation and be considered for any parenting plan.
- DO have a realistic and workable plan. Be prepared to discuss the child’s education, medical history, extra-curricular activities, etc. Bring notes with your child’s teachers’ and physicians’ names, their grades, and the activities your child is involved in. Bring at least two different proposals for a parenting plan and be prepared to discuss the plans in terms of how either will work for everyone. Tell the mediator why a particular custody arrangement and/or parenting plan is best for your children.
- DO NOT talk about child support or the percentage of time (timeshare) you will have with a child– it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you ignore this suggestion you will telegraph to the mediator that your interest is not in your child, but in support. The mediator knows, and now you do too, that the amount of time the children spend with each parent is the variable which effects the amount of support due and it is the only one under the control of the parties. Bitter arguments have occurred in the mediator’s office over a 3% difference in parenting time. Do not be that parent.
- TRY to reach an agreement for a parenting plan because it is usually best for you and your children to settle than do “battle” in court. More often than not, you will like what you and the other parent agree to more than you will like what the court imposes on you. Listen to the other parent’s concerns and work toward compromise. Even if you fail, the mediator report will reflect you are willing to work with the other parent.
If the two of you cannot come to an agreement, the Family Court Services mediator will make a written report with recommendations and the reasons for their recommendation. Your attorney will review the recommendation with you. The two of you will decide what you may, or may not, agree with , and establish a plan to move forward from there. Your attorney will also work with you to prepare a declaration in response to the Family Court Services mediation recommendation.
If you have any questions regarding Family Court Services mediation, do not hesitate to contact our attorneys at JWB Family Law and we will guide you through mediation.