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Guide to Child Custody Mediation and CCRC in California

This guide provides a detailed guide to child custody mediation and CCRC (Child Custody Recommending Counseling) in California.  “Mediation” or CCRC is required prior to any hearing (except emergency hearings) dealing with child custody in California.  Below is a county-by-county comparison for how each county deals with custody mediation, with links to the applicable court website pages.

About Child Custody Mediation in California

The law requires parents of children to participate in mandatory mediation prior to a scheduled hearing on the issue of child custody and visitation (Fam. Code 3170 and Fam. Code 3175).  The requirement of mediation may seem arduous and a pain; however, because mediation is necessary and an important part of the process to establish or modify parenting plans, you must be sure to be prepared.

California Child Custody Mediation Law

Family Code 3160 requires every county family court to have a mediator available for child custody disputes.  The purpose of mediation is to reduce acrimony and provide parents with the option of reaching amicable agreements prior to a difficult litigated hearing on visitation and parenting time.  Sometimes this goal is achieved through mediation, and other times this goal is not achieved due to parents having poor communication, a lack of trust, or concerns about the parenting of the other parent.

Family Code 3170(a) states that mediation is required in all cases when “on the face of the petition,” Request for Order (motion) or other similar pleading there appears to be an issue involving setting or modifying a parenting plan, the court clerk is required to schedule a mediation session that must take place prior to the hearing on child custody and visitation.

California Rule of Court 5.210 contains a very important set of rules that dictate child custody mediation in California.  Here is what the salient portions of the rule mean in plain English:

  • Mediators are required to be impartial and competent
  • The intake process includes a screening for domestic abuse and restraining orders
  • The court provides notice that the mediation is not confidential when a recommendation is made
  • Mediators must maintain an “overriding concern” for the best interests of the child
  • Mediators must provide a detailed parenting plan based on the child’s age and best interest
  • Mediators are required to control the mediation session to “balance” the powers
  • Mediators may interview children pursuant to Fam. Code 3180.

Mediation when Domestic Violence has Occurred

Is Custody Mediation Required when there has been Domestic Violence?

Cal. Fam. Code 3710(b) states that when domestic violence is an issue, other resources shall be made available to the participants.  The courts do not force parties that have a history of domestic violence into the same mediation room, and in fact mediators are required to separate the parties when domestic violence has been alleged under oath.  (See Fam. Code 3181).  Often, parents that have DV in their past will be met separately in different rooms and will not have contact with each other.  This provides the victim of domestic violence with the comfort that they will not have to be subjected to further abuse in the presence of the other party, particularly when there is a history of mental or psychological abuse.  It is important to remember that there is a presumption against a parent that has been found to have committed domestic violence from having custody of a child (Fam. Code 3044).  This presumption only applies to “permanent” restraining orders and similar criminal matters, not “temporary” restraining orders.

How do I deal with the other party when domestic abuse has occurred?

The mental and psychological impact of domestic violence perpetrated upon a parent and/or child cannot be understated.  While the courts are required under Cal. Rule of Court 5.210 and Fam. Court 3170 to ensure that the mediation process is fair, controlled and balanced when domestic violence has occurred, there is only so much control that the mediators yield.  It is important to be ready to deal with issues that arise from a history of domestic violence

Tips for child custody mediation when DV has occurred

Here are 5 tips for victims of domestic violence to consider prior to participating in child custody mediation in Corona, California or other counties:

  1. Invoke your right to have separate mediation sessions, unless you are able to be in the same room as the other parent. Usually, we want our client to be in the same room when possible to hear what the other parent is saying to the mediator.
  2. Prepare mentally to be strong during the mediation. Being prepared to face the DV perpetrator head on will help.
  3. Write down a list of things you want to discuss during the mediation. Write them in bullet-point.  This will help you keep focused. The mediator will not accept anything in writing during the mediation session.
  4. Focus on the child’s best interests. Relate how the domestic abuse has negatively affected the child, and why your proposed parenting plan is best suited for the child’s well-being.
  5. Have a concrete proposal that provides the other parent with some access to the child, even if supervised. Family Court judges will not “cut off” the other parent in almost all circumstances, so be prepared to give some options for the mediator.

Here are 5 tips for perpetrators of domestic violence or those accused of perpetrating domestic abuse prior to participating in child custody mediation:

  1. Focus on the things you have done to rebut the presumption that you should not have custody or visitation. For example, if you have taken anger management or parenting classes, provide proof of completion of those programs.
  2. Do not focus on the allegations of domestic violence.
  3. Continue stating why it is in your child’s best interests that you maintain a role in the child’s life.
  4. Do not do anything that may be perceived as menacing to the other party.
  5. Discuss your involvement in the child’s life, including with school, healthcare providers, and similar providers for your child.

Preparing for Child Custody Mediation

How do I prepare for child custody mediation?

Mediation is one of the most important parts of the process when a parent files a request for the Family Court to order a parenting plan in California when the county is a “recommending” county.  A “recommending” county is a county where the court-appointed mediator writes a recommendation for the family court judge.

Here are seven essential tips to consider when preparing for child custody and visitation mediation in California:

  1. Dress like the mediation is extremely important to you. Wear business casual clothing, and cover up tattoos.
  2. Bring a plan with you. What do you want the mediator to recommend?  Give a specific parenting plan that you would like to see implemented, and sound reasoning as to why.
  3. Be very careful when agreeing to certain parenting plan arrangements. Be absolutely sure it’s what you want.
  4. Find out if you are able to submit written materials to the mediator well in advance of the session. Each county has its own local rules and provides a guideline for submitting documents to mediators.  Make sure to review the rules well in advance.
  5. Prepare for your mediation with someone you trust. Discuss how you will answer certain topics that you know the other party will bring up during the mediation.  Act out the verbal exchange.
  6. Bring a picture of your child or children with you and keep it in your wallet or purse. It will remind you why you’re there.
  7. Speak up. If you don’t participate in the mediation session, then you’re wishes will not be heard.  Do not let the other side take charge and control the mediation.

The Contents of a Parenting Plan Agreement or Recommendation

What information is in a parenting plan agreement after mediation?

Parents are generally free to agree to whatever terms they deem appropriate for their child, subject to the court’s approval of their agreement.  Typically, parenting plan agreements will contain language for all of the following:

  • Legal custody: Usually parents share “joint legal custody” of their children, which means the right to make decisions about health, safety, education, and so forth.
  • Parenting time: Custody agreements should contain specific days and times when parents will have physical custody of their children. The plan is usually broken down on a week-by-week basis.
  • Holidays and vacations: A specific holiday and vacation time schedule is included in custody agreements. Court-appointed mediators are excellent resources to help create the holiday schedule.

What information is in a parenting plan recommendation?

The same information that a parenting agreement includes will also be included in a custody recommendation submitted to the family court judge by a mediator.  However, in addition to the actual recommendation, which will include all of the above, the recommendation will include a factual background and discussion as to why the mediator recommended what they did.

Interviewing Children during Custody Mediation

Do court-appointed mediators always interview children in custody cases in California?

No.  However, the law allows mediators or Child Custody Recommending Counselors to interview children under certain circumstances.  Pursuant to Fam. Code 3180, the mediator is permitted to interview the child when it would be appropriate to do so.  In all cases, mediators and CCRC counselors are permitted to recommend to the court handling the case that a custody investigation be ordered.

If your child is to be interviewed, do not discuss the case with them.  Use general terms regarding where they are going and who they will be speaking with when they begin asking questions.

Do attorneys participate in child custody mediation?

Counties differ as to whether attorneys are permitted to attend mediation.  In most counties in California, attorneys do not attend.  In all cases, mediators have the statutory authority to exclude attorneys from participating in mediation sessions.  (See Cal. Fam. Code 3182).

Time to consider a mediator report

The law mandates that parents have time to review a recommended parenting plan submitted to a family court judge by a court-appointed mediator.  (See Cal. Fam. Code 3183).  If you are not satisfied with the report, or your attorney recommends that you challenge the report, you may ask the court to “continue” your hearing.  Oral testimony is required at the request of either party when child custody (or other similar family law issue) is on the calendar for hearing.  (Cal. Fam. Code 217).

Dealing with a Mediation Recommendation that You Don’t Like

If your court-appointed mediator writes a recommendation that you do not agree with, then you have the right to challenge the mediator’s recommendation.  Here are some wants to challenge the report:

  1. Demand to cross-examine the mediator pursuant to Cal. Fam. Code 217.
  2. File a “declaration” or similar affidavit with the court setting forth your objections to the recommendation.
  3. Conduct discovery through your attorney to challenge the truthfulness of the representations made by the other party.
  4. Present an argument to the family court judge or commissioner setting forth your objections to the report.

There is no particular method to challenge a child custody recommendation from a court-appointed counselor.  The methodology to challenge the recommendation depends on the judge, the number of problems with the report, and the rationale behind the recommendation.

What does CCRC mean?

CCRC means “Child Custody Recommending Counseling”, which is the required phrase when court-appointed personnel make custody recommendations.  Corona, Riverside County custody mediation sessions are called CCRC, because the court-appointed personnel makes a recommendation to the family court judge if the parties do not reach an agreement.

Can parties elect to hire a private mediator?

Yes.  Parties may elect to hire a private mediator to deal with their child custody dispute rather than allow a court-appointed mediator to interview the parents.  The cost for such a mediator depends on the complexity of the case, acrimony between the parties, and time the mediator spends helping the parties.  Parties can expect to pay anywhere between $2,000 and $4,000, or more if the mediator is involved with the parties for an extended period of time.  The cost will also largely depend on whether the mediator writes a recommendation for the family court judge.

If the parties elect to hire a private mediator, they will need to have a formal stipulation appointing the mediator that the family law judge assigned to the case approves.  The stipulation appointing a mediator is extremely important and should be carefully drafted.

Recommending vs. Non-Recommending Counties in California

Are all counties required to provide a recommendation to the judge?

No.  In California, whether mediators provide a recommendation to the family court judge depends on the county rules.  For example, in Corona, Riverside County, the court-appointed mediator does provide a written recommended parenting plan for the judge prior to the mediation session.  Below is a detailed guide to the rules for each county in California as it relates to that county’s child custody mandatory mediation.

Below is a county-by-county guide in California for how court-appointed mediation sessions are conducted, specifically describing whether that county’s mediators provide a recommendation to the judge prior to the custody hearing:

County Does the County Require Mediation, or Child Custody Recommending Counseling (CCRC) where a Recommendation is made to the Judge? Important Notes and Links
Alameda County YES, recommending Click here for Alameda Family Court’s published important notes for CCRC
Alpine County Unknown
Amador County NOT recommending Click here for the Amador Court’s Custody/Visitation Mediation Page
Butte County YES, recommending Click here for the Butte County Family Court Services and Mediation page, and here for their FAQs page
Calaveras County NOT recommending Click here for the Calaveras Family Court Services mediation page
Colusa County NOT recommending Parents must schedule an appointment in advance for mediation.  Click here for Colusa custody mediator contact information page
Contra Costa County YES, recommending CCRC takes place at the Spinetta Family Law Center at 751 Pine Street, Martinez, CA 94553.  Call (925) 608-2065 to schedule an appointment.  Click here for Contra Costa Family Court Services page (CCRC)
Del Norte County NOT recommending Click here for Del Norte Family Court Division home page, which includes links under “Mediation”
El Dorado County YES, recommending Orientation is done online only, not in person.  Click here for El Dorado CCRC program info.
Fresno County BOTH recommending and non-recommending, depending on the judge’s direction Fresno County Family Court Services provides a three-tiered approach to mediation.  All parents participate in Tier 1, a confidential mediation session.  Parties may also be ordered by their judge to participated in Tiers 2 and 3, which may include CCRC (where a recommendation is given).  Click here for more information.
Glenn County NOT recommending Click here for the Glenn County Family Court page
Humboldt County YES, recommending Humboldt County Family Court Mediation is located at 825 Fifth Street, Room #305, Eureka, CA 95501, phone number (707) 269-1223

Here is the link to the Family Law Mediation page

Imperial County Unknown
Inyo County NOT recommending Parties are required to contact the Family Law Facilitator to schedule mediation, at 314 West Line Street, Ste. H, Bishop, CA 93514, Tel. (760) 872-4444.  Click here for the Inyo court’s local rules (see page 26).
Kern County NOT recommending Run by the “Family Mediation and Investigations” Department.  Click here for the Kern County Family Law Division page, and click “Child Custody and Visitation”
Kings County YES, recommending Click here for the Kings Family Court Services (FCS) page
Lake County NOT recommending Click here for the Lake County Child Custody Mediation page with all the information you need
Lassen County YES, recommending Click here for the Lassen County CCRC information page
Los Angeles County NOT recommending Attorneys may attend mediation but are not required.  Click here for the Los Angeles County Child Custody Mediation page.
Madera County Unknown
Marin County YES, recommending Click here for Marin County Family Court Services overview page.  The orientation is included on this page.
Mariposa County YES, recommending Click here for the Mariposa County CCRC information page
Mendocino County NOT recommending Mediation can take up to three sessions. Click here for the Mendocino County Family Mediation page
Merced County YES, recommending Click here for the Merced Family Court page
Modoc County YES, recommending You must have a court order for CCRC before participating.  Click here for the Modoc County Family Court Services CCRC page
Mono County NOT recommending Click here for the Mono County local rules
Monterey County Unknown
Napa County NOT recommending Click here for Napa County’s Family Mediation and Orientation page
Nevada County NOT recommending Click here for the very sparse Family Law page.
Orange County NOT recommending Click here for the Orange County Family Court Services page.  Also click here for our Orange County office custody guide
Placer County YES, recommending Click here for Placer County Local Rules (see page 33) for CCRC rules.
Plumas County YES, recommending The Plumas County court website states “mediation” (in violation of the statute requiring the term “Child Custody Recommending Counseling”), and click here for the Local Rules and see page 20.
Riverside County YES, Recommending Call our Corona office (Riverside cases) at (951) 444-5530 or Temecula office (Hemet cases) at (951) 249-7022 for more information.  Click here for a link to the Riverside CCRC page.
Sacramento County YES, Recommending Click here for the Sacramento County CCRC information page.
San Benito County NOT recommending Click here for San Benito County ADR page.
San Bernardino County YES, recommending Click here for the San Bernardino CCRC court page
San Diego County YES, recommending Visit our San Diego office website by clicking here.
San Francisco County NOT recommending Click here for the San Francisco Family Court Services page
San Joaquin County YES, recommending Click here for the SJ County Family Court Services page.
San Luis Obispo County NOT recommending Attorneys are not permitted to attend.  Click here for the SLO Family Court Services page
San Mateo County YES, recommending Click here for San Mateo’s CCRC information page.
Santa Barbara County NOT recommending Click here for the mediation information page for SB County.
Santa Clara County NOT recommending; however, court can order an investigation to be conducted by Family Court Services Click here for the Santa Clara County Family Court Services information page.
Santa Cruz County YES, recommending Click here for Santa Cruz Family Court Services page.
Shasta County NOT recommending
Sierra County NOT recommending Click here for Sierra County Local Rules (Rule 6)
Siskiyou County Unknown
Solano County YES, recommending Click here for the Solano County Family Court page.
Sonoma County YES, recommending Click here for the Sonoma County Fam. Court Services page.
Stanislaus County YES, recommending Click here for the Stanislaus County Family Division page.
Sutter County NOT recommending Click here for the Sutter County Child Custody Mediation page
Tehama County NOT recommending Click here for the Tehama Court FCS page.
Trinity County YES, recommending Click here for the Trinity County CCRC court information page.
Tulare County YES, recommending Click here for the Tulare County CCRC frequently asked questions page.
Tuolumne County NOT recommending Click here for the Tuolumne County Family Law court page.
Ventura County YES, recommending Click here for the Ventura County Family Court page
Yolo County YES, recommending Click here for the Yolo County CCRC website with all the info you need.
Yuba County YES, recommending Click here for the Yuba County Local Rules (see Chapter 5.1)

For more information about child custody and visitation, and preparation for child custody mediation counseling or CCRC, contact our office today.  We are conveniently located and offer a free, private consultation.