California Family Court Custody Mediation vs. Private Mediation

When a Request for Order (RFO) for child custody or visitation is filed with Family Court the parties are required to attend mediation or child custody recommending counseling (CCRC), depending on the jurisdiction you are in. Both mediation and CCRC are led by an experienced counselor or psychotherapist with a master's degree related to marriage and family interpersonal relationships. The goal of mediation is to help you and your spouse come to agreements regarding your children.

Assuming you and your spouse are in agreement, you can choose to opt out of working with a family court mediator and instead retain a private mediator. Both of you will attend mediation together unless a restraining order is in place (or violence is alleged), in which case you will meet separately with the mediator.

Regardless of which type of mediation is selected, the goal is for the two of you to agree on as many issues as possible. The focus is on the children's safety, welfare, and best interests. Issues include physical and legal custody, timeshare, schools children should attend, holiday schedules, medical needs, special needs, activities for the children, and other topics that involve the children.

You will each have the opportunity to express your position and/or proposed parenting schedule and the reasoning behind your respective positions. The mediator helps with negotiating, compromising, and insight to assist you in coming to as many agreements on the issues concerning the children as possible.

In some counties, the mediator will submit a report to the court that includes a brief summary of both parents' requests and concerns followed by the mediator's recommendations.

Mediation is sometimes on the day of your court hearing but usually several days or weeks before you have to appear in court. Assuming you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement regarding your children in mediation or on your own, your case will proceed to court. Both of you will have an opportunity to present your evidence and express your positions to the judge. In many counties, the judge will review the mediator's recommendations. While these recommendations are not binding on the court, they can certainly be persuasive.


Family court mediation

Family Court Services Mediators (FCS) work for the court. In some counties, you are notified by mail of the mediation date, location, and time. Other counties require you to call in and schedule your session. In a few counties, mediation is held on the day of the court hearing.

Things to consider

  • You usually only have one meeting with a court (FCS) mediator.
  • FCS mediation sessions are between 20-60 minutes long. You don't have a whole lot of time to present your side of the story.

There is no follow-up session if something is forgotten, or time runs out to make your position fully known and understood by the mediator. Often there is no time for the mediator to speak with your child(ren). During same-day mediation, parents get their one time with the mediator and hope the recommendations go their way. The mediator will make recommendations with very little time to gather all of the information needed to make a well-informed decision.


There is no charge to parents for FCS mediation. However, if you have an attorney, you may wind up having to pay them while they wait (they don't attend with you). Attorneys are paid for all court time, including appearing before, during, and after mediation.

Private mediators (often referred to as Private Child Custody Recommending Counselors) do charge for their services and the total cost depends on the number of sessions necessary, whether or not the kid(s) will be met with and if there is additional information (such as an IEP report or pleadings) that you or your spouse want your mediator to read. Mediators also charge for their time to write their reports and recommendations. However, it's a good idea to remember that mediators are generally much cheaper than lawyers. Additionally, their goal is to help facilitate a settlement.

Unlike FCS mediation, you have plenty of time to share your concerns, work on co-parenting skills and try to come to an agreement. If you decide to go the private mediator route, check your county to see if they have a local form to appoint a private mediator or use our guide.

Mediation can be avoided altogether if you and your spouse agree on all issues pertaining to their children. Even if the agreement is temporary, it is certainly a good start to your divorce. If you do come to an agreement before your court hearing, prepare a Stipulation and Order. Our template is here.

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.