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CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION: TIPS FOR APPEARING IN FAMILY COURT SERVICES

I am often asked, “What should I do to prepare for Family Court Services Mediation?”  The following are some tips to help you maximize your success at Family Court Services:

1. In custody disputes each party often tries to point the finger at the other party saying, “He is this” or “She did that”…  While putting down the other party may make you feel good, it will annoy or alienate the mediator. Don’t do it.

2. The focus of mediation has to the the child.  What is best for the child or in the child’s best interest.  Always focus on the child.  What is the child’s daily schedule?  Why is your proposed visitation schedule best for the child?  Why are your requested orders beneficial for the child? Why is the other party’s request bad or detrimental for the child?  Remember, the focus is not the other party. It is the child.

3.  Point out to the mediator that you are willing to share the child.  You understand that the child needs and is entitled to two parents.  “Frequent and continuing contact” with both parents is the statutory mandate in California.  If there exists a strong reason to prevent visitation, you should be prepared to (1) explain why the child is in danger in the other parent’s household and (2) be prepared to discuss supervised visitation as an option.

4.  If there are boyfriends, girlfriends, or significant others involved in your relationship or in the other parent’s relationship, you need to realize that there is a place in the child’s life for these people.  You also need to realize that Mom’s boyfriend is not the child’s father and Dad’s girlfriend is not the child’s mother and the line between these must be respected.

5.  Stability, consistency, and structure are what children, particularly young children, need.  Try to minimize exchanges and to avoid conflict at exchanges.

6. Indicate to the evaluator that you are willing to take parenting classes, participate in coparenting counseling, and work with the other parent in learning how to work more effectively with each other for your child’s benefit.  However, unless anger is clearly a problem, do not agree to go into anger management classes because there does exist a stigma which will remain attached to entering into anger management in the future.  Attending the high conflict classes with the other parent or separately may be a beneficial alternative.

7.  Always respect the mediator.  Don’t fight or argue with him or her.  You may respectfully disagree, but always be solicitous and courteous.  You may disagree with his or her proposals, but do not attack the mediator personally by claiming he or she is biased, unfair, etc.  Remember: This person has a lot of power and influence over your future relationship with your child and the mediator’s recommendations (in recommending counties) carry weight with the judge.

8.  Wear conservative, clean, and neat clothing.  Women: No tight sweaters or jeans, no heavy makeup, no extensive or ostentatious jewelry.  Men:  Wear a clean shirt with a collar, clean pants, and shoes.  Do not show up with jeans with holes in the knees, your shirt hanging out, unshaven or smelling like you just got out of a locker room.  If you are coming from work, go home first and shower, if possible.

9.  Don’t bring your boyfriend or girlfriend to mediation unless you clear it first with the mediator.  You don’t need conflict at the meeting in which you are trying to work things out.

10.  Attitude is important.  Do not go to mediation with a chip on your shoulder or expecting it to be a trial where you can put on your case.  The purpose of mediation is to see if you are able to work out a plan cooperatively to your benefit and that of your child or children.  It is not a dry run for a trial.

11. Mediators often measure success not on what the contents of a mediation agreement might be but upon the fact that they were able to achieve an agreement.  The mediator may try to pressure you into agreeing to something that you do not feel comfortable with.  Do not agree to something you are uncomfortable with and do not let the mediator bully or pressure you into something.  If you feel comfortable with an agreement, sign it.  If you do not, do not sign it.

12.  Do not talk about custody time percentages.  This makes the mediator think your position is over child support rather than over the child and the child’s best interest and will weaken your credibility.

13. Although mediators may try to discourage you from calling your attorney before you sign an agreement because they are afraid they may lose the agreement, you have the right to consult with your legal counsel and are strongly encouraged to do so before you sign anything.  Mediators do not give you legal advice and you may not understand the legal significance of what you are signing.  The mediator wants an agreement but once you are out the door you have to live with it and the mediator does not.  Speak with your attorney before you sign something.  I suggest you call your attorney a day or two before mediation to find out when he or she is available and how you can get in touch with him or her.  The reason for this is that you do not want to be in a situation where there may be a tentative or proposed agreement and you cannot proceed because you can’t reach your attorney.  Most attorneys will make arrangements for you to be able to reach them at the time your mediation is scheduled so there is no hold up and you don’t have to walk out of there without what may be a good agreement because you can’t reach your attorney.

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