We feel upset because we cry a lot. We feel sad and mad and angry. We were surprised and shocked when we heard the news. I used to feel sad, but now I feel mad and sad, and sometimes a little crazy. Most of us feel some amount of confusion confusion about what is happening in our families and confusion about how we feel. As a sixyearold I was just confused, and I was wondering how my life was going to change. And I didn’t have any siblings to go through it with so I kind of had to do it on my own.
I was confused a lot, but until I was maybe 12, it was just go with the flow. The voices you just heard are a tiny sample of the millions of children who have experienced changes in their family that also involve the family court. Whether parents have been married and are now separating or divorcing, or whether parents have never been married and need to make custody arrangements regarding their children, the court system in California is designed to assist families through this sometimes overwhelming experience. It was difficult watching my daughter go through various levels of grief. It took some years, it was frustrating at times,.
But I hung in there, as did her mother, and we kept everything about the best out come for our daughter. California law requires that parents attend mediation if they do not agree about custody or parenting time with their children. This process is referred to as Child Custody Recommending Counseling in some courts. Mediation and Child Custody Recommending Counseling are similar in most ways. My name’s Dan. How are you I’m going to be your mediator today. Narrator Mediation is a process in which parents spend time with a neutral, specially trained professional.
Orientation to Family Court Mediation and Child Custody Recommending Counseling
Narrator cont’d who will listen to their concerns and help them develop a parenting plan that meets the needs of their family. What bothered me the most was that I wouldn’t get to see my daughter every day, and that kind of weighed on me. When parents first come to court it’s scary, and anxiety is heightened, and people are just not able to focus like they normally would in every day circumstances. They have a fair amount of pessimism about what can possibly be achieved in there, and when you think about it it makes sense,.
Because people come to court precisely because they can’t talk, and then the first thing they’re told to do is please go and try to talk. So as mediators we try to acknowledge those feelings and recognizing, as well, that people do heal. We want to give them an opportunity to consider all kinds of options and an opportunity to come up with their own plan that they can develop and customfit to the needs of their children, focusing not on Mom’s rights or Dad’s, but, again, getting both parents to channel that energy into what’s best for the kids.
Most courts in California have a Family Court Services program or other mediation program to help parents mediate their parenting concerns. What I explain to parents is that there are three goals in mediation. The first goal is to try to help them come up with a plan. The second goal is that that plan needs to be in the child’s best interest, so it’s not necessarily what either parent may want, but it’s what’s going to be best for the child. The third goal is to help the parents reduce acrimony and bitterness between them, so that the children won’t suffer as a result.
Child custody mediation is conducted by court mediators who are skilled professionals in the field of psychology, marriage and family child counseling, or social work. By statutory requirements everyone is trained in the area of domestic violence, the impact of domestic violence on children, also substance abuse, family dynamics, issues of child abuse A lot of us have experience in the field working either as therapists with families, with kids Because of our education and training, we’re able to navigate some of those very difficult situations that parents and children face.
This whole single parent custody, it was all new and it didn’t really I had not been here before, you know, I didn’t feel like it came with an instruction packet, so I didn’t really know what to do. My job is to work with you and see if I can help you come Narrator Mediation provides an opportunity for parents to work out their custody and parenting arrangements. There’s three really important issues that we need to cover in each session. One is the concept of legal custody, the second is the concept of physical custody,.
And then the third, of course, is the custodial schedule. The court would like to have people write comprehensive schedules, schedules that are detailed, for how parents are going to spend time with their children. It really depends. For younger kids it might be a schedule that enables them to remain with the primary caregiver and spend time with the other parent, maybe three or four days a week for a few hours at a time. As the children get older, or they’re already used to overnights, everybody defines their weekend in a unique way.
Some parents, a weekend is from after soccer on Saturday until after dinner on Sunday. Another type of issue that we often see is move away requests, where one parents is looking to move out of the area with the kids. As the parent, well, what is the judge grants the mother to move away in New York He was able to come up with his own timeshare in that specific scenario. And vice versa, the moving parent, what if the judge says that the child has to stay back here What then.
And they were able to come up with their own timeshares. We will address what if the child is sick and can’t leave to meet another parent at an exchange What do we under those circumstances We also address emergency situations. And how to address all of those different everyday parenting issues when you’re living in two different homes. Narrator In California either parent can have custody of the children, or the parents can share custody. Joint legal custody is for parents who want to share in the health and education decisions for their children.
Parents who have joint legal custody often select schools, daycare providers, and counselors together. If one parent has sole legal custody then that parent makes those decisions alone. When parents have joint physical custody children live a great deal of time with each parent, not necessarily 5050, although it can mean 5050. Sole physical custody means that a child lives with one parent and spends significantly less amount of time with the other parent. What we’re trying to accomplish is making sure that both Mom and Dad have time in an appropriate way with their children.
And every child and every family is unique. There’s not a presumption that the mother should have custody. There’s not a presumption that the father should have custody. There’s only a presumption that they should have joint custody if the two of them agree about that. So for every family there needs to be a unique plan, and sometimes that plan has to be precise for each child. My concern was that, as is sometimes the case, that I was not I was not going to have time with my daughter.
Her concern, as is sometime the case, was that I would not want to have time with my daughter, and she wanted to have a life. And we were able to mutually agree that we both really had to stay away from anger, you know, and really behave like adults, which is challenging at times, even when you are an adult. Okay, folks, I have a copy of your agreement, one for each of you Woman off screen Every county is different. One thing that we like to do, is when parents reach an agreement, is to write it all out for them,.
And when they leave the mediation office they have that agreement in hand. Child We feel tired and bored bringing our stuff back and forth. Child We need time for homework and activities. Child We need family time and oneonone time. Man If you are unable to reach an agreement Woman off screen Usually the parents meet together for mediation. However, if there’s a history of violence, or a restraining order has been issued, or if a parent does not feel safe meeting with the other parent the mediator will arrange for separate sessions at separate times.
Woman off screen We take domestic violence issues very, very seriously. One of the things we do is we make sure that there’s an intake process, so we have an intake sheet with questions specifically designed to ask and solicit, if there is some issues of domestic violence in the family, if there’s a restraining order in the family. This intake form is confidential only the mediator sees it. Many times parents are hesitant to bring up any past domestic violence because there are no police reports, there are no arrests,.
But it’s our job, if there has been a history, to really find out what’s going on and make sure that they feel comfortable being in the same room or being in a separate room. And then in our parenting plans we make sure we talk about that and how safety is critical, and maybe neutral exchange locations so you don’t have to be in the same space as parents, you can exchange your child maybe through a third party. We also want to make sure that if there’s any violence in the home,.
We want to talk about interventions and things you can do as parents to support your children, because they experienced that violence. And the mediators are all trained and very well versed at providing information to the parents about what they can do for themselves to feel like there’s a way of moving forward from this. It is important that parents tell court personnel of their needs. A person who is protected by a restraining order or protective order has the right to have a support person present in mediation at an orientation program and at the court hearing.
The support person cannot participate in the mediation and should be a neutral person who is not involved in the case. It’s also important to know that family courts issue orders that address safety issues, such as restraining orders, orders for supervised visitation, procedures for exchange of the children, or other orders regarding safety concerns for parents andor children. Our first focus is on the best interest of the children, but we have to temper that with safety concerns as well, so we’re trying to determine what’s best for children, what safety concerns there might be with each parent,.
Trying to meet the state’s goal of having children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. So we’re focusing on all of those things at the same time. If there’s a conflict between those policies, then we have to focus on safety first. Child Kids need reassurance that it will be okay. Child We need you to stop fighting. Woman California has 58 diverse counties. All courtconnected child custody mediators have to follow certain laws and standards of practice, but there are some differences parents should be aware of. One of these is how cases are handled if parents are not able to reach an agreement in mediation.
So we worked really hard here today. I think that Woman off screen In those courts where mediators cont’d do not make recommendations when the parents cannot agree, cont’d the mediator may only report to the court that the parents were unable to reach an agreement. Mediation is voluntary. It’s mandatory for you to appear in the mediation session but it’s certainly voluntary to reach an agreement, so there is no pressure that will take place in the process. If I can sometimes get them to say, Hey, let’s make two different categories,.
The things you just can’t agree about and the things that you can agree about, sometimes I can have a partial agreement. While the mediator in these courts does not make recommendations regarding custody or parenting time, sometimes, and in some courts, the mediator might make the following recommendations if appropriate. If it is believed to be in the best interest of the child, the mediator in some courts might recommend a restraining order to protect the child. A mediator might also recommend an attorney be appointed for the child, and the mediator might recommend an evaluation, investigation, or other services to assist the parents in resolving the matter.
When parents don’t agree in the mediation process, then as a mediator we will finish the mediation and we’ll declare an impasse. I should say, however, that mediators are very patient, so we will try very hard before we actually come to that point. And I like to remind parents at the end that even if they didn’t reach an agreement today, doesn’t mean that they can’t reach agreements in the future. So the judge hopes that you two can reach an agreement regarding the custody visitation of your children. Woman off screen In many other courts there are mediators who are called child custody recommending counselors,.
Because they will make recommendations to the court regarding custody and parenting time if the parents can’t agree. In those courts mediation is referred to as Child Custody Recommending Counseling. When I feel that the parents aren’t going to agree, then it’s important for me to gather as much information as possible regarding the issues that they present, whether it be legal custody or physical custody. We want to get information so that we can make the best recommendations possible for the parents’ consideration and for the court’s consideration. The goal is to help parents reach an agreement.
Because they are the people with the most information and the most investment, and the most emotion. At best a judge is a stranger. We can be an educated stranger, we can listen as well as we can, but we are never going to be that child’s parent. So we are a secondbest choice for making a decision about children. Woman off screen In all courts parents will be notified before the start of their mediation cont’d how the outcome of mediation will be handled, and any limitations to confidentiality. We certainly want to do everything we can to protect the confidentiality of families,.
And we’re very careful when they come in as to the information that they write on their intake forms or even the reports that we might write. And so there are protocols in every county as to how to handle that. The other side of confidentiality that I explain to them is that I will be writing a report that they are going to receive. Either it’s going to be a report that’s based on their agreements, or my recommendations if they don’t reach an agreement, or a combination thereof. And I explain to them that they get this report if they’re represented by attorneys,.
Their attorneys will get the report, and the court will get the report as well. Also, our reports will be in a confidential section of the court files, so they don’t have to worry about strangers coming to the Clerk’s Office and asking to see what happened in their mediation. If we learn during the course of a mediation session that someone is being abused, particularly a child, then we may be obliged to contact authorities and let them know, and in that case confidentiality would not apply. If recommendations regarding custody and visitation are made,.
The child custody recommending counselor is required to give the parents and any attorneys a copy of the report with recommendations prior to the court hearing. Judge I have a copy of the child custody recommending counselor’s report. Woman off screen It is important that parents check with their local court, and talk with a mediator and child custody recommending counselor about what happens to the information that is shared during mediation. Child We need hugs and kisses. Child We need love. We always need love from our parents. If the parents can’t agree, the judge will make a final decision at a court hearing.
Sometimes their areas of disagreement are very simple to resolve. Sometimes a short hearing is sufficient to resolve the issues for the time being. Some parents only need a custody order that’s going to last them a little bit of time until they can let things settle. Some parents are looking for something that’s going to last a lot longer. So a case can be resolved anywhere from a short discussion with a judge, which can help parents reach an agreement, to a judge hearing some testimony from each parent, and then making a determination,.
And sometimes there are evaluations that might be ordered, or there might be a longer sort of a hearing like a trial. Child We need you to listen to us and talk to us. Child When we are given a choice in things the whole process is easier. Child We want a say in more things, especially our living arrangements. So between the ages of 6 and 13, when they didn’t ask me what I would prefer for a switching schedule, I was heavily into softball and dance in those ages,.
And I had a lot of things going on during the week and on the weekends, and it was always a hassle for me to have to worry about who’s going to take me to dance practice or who’s going to take me to my softball game. When I got smart enough into my teenage years and realized that I had a say and had a voice, I started asking more about how the court process worked, and they explained the switching schedules and the parenting plans. And I said, Well, can I put my input in, because I’d like to do cheerleading and it’s, you know, six days a week sometimes.
And that’s when my parents started getting more flexible. Child I feel okay but sometimes I feel a little sad. It is normal for parents and children to go through an adjustment period when there are changes in the time they spend together. They may find it is a difficult and painful time, and parents and children may have a hard time communicating. Research has shown that ongoing conflict between the parents can be harmful to children. There are things parents can do to minimize the conflict and help their children adjust.
The one thing that affects the children the most is the conflict that parents have. The ongoing conflict affects them in schooling, their emotions, their future relationships. And so the first thing that you can do to help your child is find ways to reduce conflict. That is the central thing you can do. One of them that we encourage is that parents do not make any disparaging remarks in the presence of the children regarding the other parent, or allowing third parties to do so. So if there is maybe a friend or a family member that’s taking sides,.
And is speaking negatively about a parent in front of the child, we ask parents to take control of that and to tell everyone, We will not discuss the other parent in front of the children, in any kind of negative way. There are a lot of ways that parents can help minimize the conflict. One is just to take a step back and realize that it’s parenting is a really difficult job. There are going to be challenges, and even if they lived in the same household they’re not always going to agree.
One of the ways I help parents to reduce the conflict they have is to focus on their communication, because what ends up happening, they come into my office and they’re arguing about this, that, and the other thing, and they have all these different arguments, whether it’s the homework or whether how the kid gets to school on time, but the problem isn’t about each one of these individual problems. It’s about the communication. And if they can figure out how to solve one of these problems, we can import their solutionmaking for this problem to all the other ones,.
If they have basic communication skills. Another thing that parents can do to try to help keep their kids out of the conflict is just not put the kids in the middle. So when I hear parents tell me that the other parent is having the child call and ask if they can stay a little bit longer, for example, I tell the parents, You know, you need to be doing that with one another. And so we encourage parents to communicate directly in matters concerning the children, and not to use the child as a liaison.
It’s too much pressure and it causes too much anxiety on the kids, and half the time, as is normal, children don’t always get their stories straight. So I encourage parents to think in terms of, You will hear information from your child. Before you jump to conclusions, and you call to accuse the other parent about what you just heard, that you will call to clarify what you just heard. If I could get parents to do nothing else, it would be to avoid doing any sort of business at an exchange.
I call an exchange a magic moment for their children. Their children are going to see the two people they love the most in the world come together in one visual, and it’s really important that that be 100 positive for those children, because they’re going to do thousands of exchanges. A helpful tip for parents is to recognize ways that the child’s put in the middle that were unintentional ways. For example, if a parent was attending an extracurricular function and the other parent was also there, before or after who does that child talk to.
Are they free to go back and forth between the parents without one of the parents getting upset, that why did you go talk to him first or her first, and immediately afterwards you should have come to one side or the other. And just be cautious about that. It’s okay for the child to be free to go back and forth at will, as they would anyone else, and get to go see friends and to chitchat after an event that they’re excited about. It’s about them and not about Mom and Dad.
Make sure they know it’s okay with you to love the other parent, as well as you loving them, because they forget that and they sometimes think it’s their fault. We’ve seen children come to us who are 15 years, 16 years old, and having missed that piece, having missed that opportunity to have a significant relationship with the other parent, and how it affects them down the road. So I think parents really need to think about how can I ensure that my child has a relationship with both of us,.
Because developmentally that’s what they need. A lot of it is just keeping that anger out of it, keeping the anger out of it one day at a time, and if you can somehow manage to pause when you’re feeling that, and not react, and wait until that passes, and then do what you have to do, it goes a long way towards healing and making the process better for you and better for the kids. The kids don’t deserve to be under the thumb of that anger, they just don’t deserve it, and it’s only hurtful. So you owe them that.
In front of the children it’s really, really important to be civil. And you don’t want to go to your kids’ extracurriculars and sit on opposite sides of the field or opposite sides of the stadium watching them perform or do what they do best. It just makes them feel like they have to choose afterwards who to go see and say, Hi and thank you for coming. And it’s just really stressful when they can’t even be in the same vicinity. Change is a natural part of life. It is important for parents to be aware that a plan they decide on now may need to be changed in the future.
Another important thing to consider is that the plan may be different for each child, depending upon their needs. I think it helps parents to recognize that the parenting plan is evolving as the child gets older, and needs to be adjusted and perhaps modified, and they need to expect to be flexible. They need to expect to make changes, that a parenting plan that might fit the needs of a younger child 5 years old, just starting kindergarten, is going to be significantly different than the sophomore in high school.
Younger children need a lot of security. They have a hard time with a lot of transitions. So what can you do to minimize those for them As they get older, they’re all about their friends, you know, school, extracurricular activities. I think you should consider the specifics that have to do with the burdens that are being put on children through parenting plans. For instance, how much travel time is the child going to be required to do throughout the day or the week How does your plan affect their schoolwork.
Are they able to be successful in their school with the plan that you have How does this plan affect their friendships How do they keep connected to the people that really mean a lot to them How does this plan affect their activities, the things that they enjoy doing on a daytoday basis If you can imagine yourself in their shoes, and think to yourself, Gee, would I want this kind of plan, or would I have wanted this kind of plan, then I think you’re on the way to making a good plan for your children.
Having my parents be flexible with my schedule, I was so grateful for it because I didn’t feel pressured to spending more time with one parent, and I got to just do what I wanted to do and have something about the divorce be about me, and that was kind of heartwarming. Child We need parents to try to understand and respect what it’s really like for us. Child Some of us are even happier. Child It can be a relief when parents finally make the decision to divorce or to separate after they had been fighting for so long.
For more information about the court process, parents may seek assistance through their local court. In addition to the family court services departments, courts have selfhelp centers or family law facilitators who may help parents with the paperwork required and answer questions about child support and other issues. While they are not allowed to provide legal advice, they are able to assist parents with information about the family law legal process. Also, if you need assistance in getting a child support order, changing the amount, or help collecting child support, services are available through the local child support agency.
These agencies are located in each county to provide services to parents. They are not a part of the court, but a governmental agency that provides services to either parent. You can get more information on these services and how to apply at the California Department of Child Support Services website. I would highly recommend that if you hit a rough spot, that you go back through mediation, try to work it out. If that doesn’t work, come back to court. A bench officer is here to help you work out your problems in the best interest of your children.
Our daughter has grown up. She’s graduated from college. We both went down and attended her graduation and sat by each other, and we were both mutually excited and proud, and you know, and good friends. And I think at the end, you know, we kind of did a fist bump and said, Good job. Good job. I wouldn’t be able to keep doing it if everything always ended the way parents see it on the way in. I keep holding on to the way the parents see it on the way out.
They’ll let me know, Wow, what a difference this made having you here. And letting them know that, Hey, you guys can have this type of communication outside. They get really excited about their children, they get focused on their children, and it’s not about the fighting anymore. It’s about we need to help our children. I realized that after my graduation ceremony I had to say hi and take pictures with both of my families, so I asked both families to come to the same spot on the field. So after we threw up our caps we walked over.
To where I was meeting my family, and both of them were there. Before you know it, after we took some pictures, my parents were mingling, my mom and my dad’s family were mingling, and vice versa, and it was just it was a relief to me to actually see them together. One big thing that I really wanted out of this was a picture with just my mom and my dad, because the last time I can remember taking a picture with both of them was maybe when I was 3 or 4 years old, and I’ve cherished that picture and I really would like a few more to have.