If you reside in California and are facing a divorce, you may be wondering what resources are available to you if you are worried about gaining custody of your children.
When it comes to California child custody, going to court is always an option, however, it may not be your best option. If a divorce goes through the court system in California, the court will require mediation for the parenting portion of the divorce process. In San Diego, this department is known as Family Court Services or “FCS.” The parties will be scheduled to mediate their parenting plan to come to an agreement on the custody and visitation of their children. While this process is termed “mediation” it is a different type of mediation than what you will read about below, under “Mediation” as a resource.
Court-ordered mediation through FCS is a process by which a mediator will sit down with the parties, without any counsel present, for as long as is necessary, to come to an agreement on California child custody and visitation. Anything related to money (support, expenses, etc.), will not be part of this mediation. Only the issues regarding custody and visitation of the children. After the meeting, the mediator will make a written recommendation to the Judge. The Judge will then make decisions based on that recommendation, as well as any feedback from the parties either directly or indirectly, through their attorneys.
Another important resource to know about within the court system, especially if you are self-represented, is the Department of Child Support Services, or “DCSS.” This department strictly handles child support, both ongoing and arrears. One comes to this department after having figured out the custody and visitation, either through Family Court Services or by way of agreement between you and your co-parent.
A lawyer will get you to the courthouse, which will get you to the court-ordered mediator through FCS. Even when represented by an attorney, it is still a requirement the parties go through FCS to try and come to an agreement on a schedule for each parent with their children.
Typically, when represented by an attorney, there will not be a need for DCSS as the support is handled between the attorneys as part of their representation. It is important to remember that litigation attorneys are required by their rules of professional conduct to zealously represent their clients. This often results in creating more turmoil where none should be. Family law attorneys have gained a negative reputation for how they handle cases involving families due to their roles as adversaries. However, they act as they are expected. If you are looking to work more collaboratively and amicably, then attorneys are not always the best avenue for your divorce. An attorney is hired to be one party advocate, so it is interesting when parties are confounded when their divorce spirals out of control and becomes full of anger and resentment. That should be expected if you and your spouse choose to invite opposing advocates into your lives. The attorneys are not to blame, they are doing the job they were hired to do. This is why it is so important to understand the different resources before choosing one over another.
A professional family law mediator is hired as a neutral facilitator to assist you and your co-parent in coming up with all the agreements related to California child custody, or as we like to refer to it, your parenting plan, or the timeshare between the parents. The financial issues revolving around your children will also be part of the mediation. Both parents’ budgets, financial needs, and cash flow will be thoroughly discussed and understood in order to determine how costs should be handled and how much assistance one parent may need from the other in order to provide a similar living arrangement in both homes where the children will reside.
Because a mediator is not an advocate and is not hired to zealously represent either side, he or she provides an objective neutral mindset for the process to take place in. Information is provided so each party understands the legal world they are making decisions, but there is no pressure given to either party to decide their lives in any particular way. At West Coast Family Mediation Center, we brainstorm various ideas to see if they align, until both parties feel comfortable choosing an arrangement. Contact us today!
by: Jennifer Segura