Child Custody Recommending Counseling vs. Mediation

You and your soon-to-be-ex are struggling to work out your separation agreement. You may be in the process of a divorce, a domestic partnership dissolution (with children), a parentage case, or a domestic violence legal action in which one parent is requesting child custody orders.

Whatever the case may be, the two of you cannot agree on the details of a parenting plan. So, California’s family law court (FLC) has stepped in and mandated that you both work with a mediator before your hearing.

You’re already stressed out, and now you have this mandate from the state to worry about. What can you expect? Depending on which California county you live in, you may be required to participate in a process called recommending counseling or a process called child custody mediation. 

It’s all about mediation

Whether you participate in recommending counseling or child custody mediation, the key word to understand is mediation.

In a case involving children where the parties have not agreed on a parenting plan, the FLC mandates that parents "mediate" prior to a hearing on the matter. Mediators have experience in counseling or psychotherapy and must have a Master's degree in behavioral science related to marriage and family interpersonal relationships.

Which will you participate in: recommending counseling or child custody mediation? And what's the difference?

Here’s what to expect in either case.

Recommending counseling

In some California counties, including Contra Costa, Alameda, Solano, and San Francisco, Family Court Services requires parents to participate in recommending counseling. The recommending counselor is charged with the duty of assisting parents with the development of a parenting plan and working out their disputes. 

If you and the other parent are unable to come to an agreement, the counselor will provide a written recommendation to the court. You will have an opportunity to review the recommendation prior to your hearing. If you disagree with the recommendation, you will have a chance to explain to the court why a different result would better serve the best interest of your child or children.

Child custody mediation

Like recommending counseling, child custody mediation involves parental participation in mediation. The goal is to work out a parenting plan and resolve any disagreements with respect to the care of the child or children.

If you reach an agreement, you and your ex-spouse will sign an agreement. Generally, the judge will approve this agreement and make a court order. 

However, if you do not come to an agreement, the judge will decide legal and physical custody issues for you, as well as parenting timeshare issues, at the hearing.

Suggested: Child Custody Mediation Tips


Getting help

The California county in which your action is pending affects which dispute resolution procedure you’ll follow. It can feel overwhelming, but Hello Divorce is here to help. We may be able to recommend alternative methods for resolving your disputes, such as ADR, private mediation, or settlement negotiation. Schedule a consultation with us for more information.

Watch: We can't agree on custody. Now what?



Child Custody Information Sheet – Recommending Counseling. California Judicial Branch.
Child Custody Information Sheet – Child Custody Mediation. California Judicial Branch.


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.