Tips for Court-Ordered Child Custody Mediation in California

If you and your former partner are unable to agree on child custody and/or visitation issues, you both will be required to participate in mandatory child custody mediation. A skilled and trained mediator (locally termed "child custody recommending counselor") will be assigned to your case.

What is child custody mediation?

A mediator holds at least a master's degree and has extensive clinical experience in the fields of psychology, marriage, family, and child counseling.

The objective of mediation is to give parents an opportunity to discuss and resolve issues related to the best interest of their children in a neutral setting.

Goals of mediation include helping parents make a parenting plan in their children's best interest, creating a viable plan in which the children spend time with both parents and teaching parties the skills needed to deal with anger and resentment. In many counties, if the parents are unable to reach an agreement, the mediator provides a recommendation to the court. This recommendation will be (strongly) considered by the judicial officer, but each parent will have the opportunity to state their objections to the recommendation.

What should I do in child custody mediation?

DO focus on your child's needs

Remember: The court's goal is to make an order that serves your children's best interests. Spending time rehashing upsetting events that occurred in your marriage will waste precious time and frustrate your counselor. The focus should not be on your needs. It should be on the needs of your children. This is not to say you should agree to an order that is impractical or overburdensome. However, the focus should not be on your convenience or on punishing the other party.

DO go to mediation prepared

Go to mediation with a custody and timeshare plan. Some clients bring in a calendar with days marked off for each parent and information about school holidays, work schedules, and extracurricular activities. The mediator may use your proposal as a starting place for negotiation. You will impress the counselor with preparedness. You will also feel more confident knowing you have thought through a plan that feels doable.

DO have an open mind and a business-like attitude

It is expected that your ex will say things that are hurtful, untrue, or counterproductive. Trust that the mediator can see through unreasonable requests. Take a deep breath if communications get heated. Engaging in back-and-forth banter or bad-mouthing will be noted by the mediator and addressed in their recommendations.

Mediators have extensive experience and are well aware of schedules that most often work for parents. If they don't work, parents come back to court and often see the same mediator. You may feel that a five-day on/five-day off schedule would be best for your child (to limit exchanges with your ex), but for a young child, five days may be too long to go without seeing a parent. While you know your child best, the counselor may have proposals worth considering.

DO bring up valid concerns about the other parent's ability to care for your child

Be forewarned, however, that nit-picking is unhelpful. The concern must be valid to be considered. Some valid concerns include inappropriate child restraints in vehicles, domestic violence in the other parent's household, getting your child to school late on a regular basis, consistently arriving at visitations late, harassing emails or texts from the noncustodial parent, and substance abuse issues.

Less valid are concerns about the other party's apparent disinterest in parenting before the breakup. Mediators and the court want to give all parents a chance to be present for their children.

DO be realistic

A settlement isn't a settlement if you are totally happy. Nobody is a true "winner" in co-parenting disputes. Keep in mind your schedule and obligations as well as those of the other parent. If you work the graveyard shift three days a week, who will be with the kids in the evenings?

DO understand that co-parenting is a process

While we'd all like the first agreement or order to be the final one, it's usually not that easy. Sometimes, the court will give a less-active parent an opportunity to become more involved. If they do, great! You'll get a break, and your child will benefit from two engaged parents. If they don't, you'll now have an opportunity to return to court and demonstrate that an order has been violated (giving rise to a modification).

DO keep these final tips in mind

  • Refer to your children as "ours." Failing to acknowledge your ex-partner as a parent typically annoys a mediator.
  • Try to obtain an order that is as specific as possible. This will help avoid ambiguities, arguments, and misunderstandings. If you are in mediation, it's because you already have issues that led you to court. You want an enforceable order that clearly defines vacations, holidays, transportation, legal custody, and timeshare.
  • Be firm. Remember that the primary goal of a parenting plan is that it works in the children's best interests. While you need to be flexible, you do not need to agree to something that you don't think is fair. If you cannot reach an agreement with your spouse, you can leave it up to the judge to decide ‚Äî but there's no way to know how they will rule. A mediator or legal coach can also help guide you through a parenting plan.

Mediation is an integral part of family law when you have child custody and visitation issues. It's okay to be nervous or emotional. But by staying focused and on task, you are much more likely to have a successful outcome. Should you have additional questions and/or need expert assistance, please schedule a free 15-minute call with us.


Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.