In California, whenever family law issues of child custody or visitation are in dispute, California Family Code section 3170 requires that the parties involved participate in Child Custody Recommending Counseling. This is also referred to as child custody mediation and applies whenever a party to a family law case wants to obtain or change a child custody or visitation court order and the other party does not agree.
Child Custody Recommending Counseling is a form of negotiation between parents with the help of a professional Child Custody Recommending Counselor (also known as a child custody counselor or court mediator) who is a mental health professional. The Child Custody Recommending Counselor will assist parents in reaching an agreement regarding child custody, parent time-share and parenting issues for their children. If parents do come to agreement in all areas of the parenting plan, Family Code section 3183 allows the Child Custody Recommending Counselor to make specific recommendations to the family law court on the items in dispute. This is known as non-confidential child custody mediation, meaning the Child Custody Recommending Counselor makes recommendations to the court on contested items.
If you have been ordered to attend child custody recommending counseling, it is imperative that you take this counseling seriously and that you attempt to settle the child custody dispute directly with the other parent with the Child Custody Recommending Counselor’s assistance. If the dispute cannot be resolved, the family law court may place considerable importance on the Child Custody Recommending Counselor’s recommendation and order a legally binding parenting plan that will affect you and your children’s lives for many years to come. The following are some basic helpful tips to assist you in preparing for child custody recommending counseling.
1. Identify Your Concerns and Your Wishes. Take time before you attend child custody recommending counseling to prepare an outline of your top concerns, as well as your proposal for a child custody and parenting schedule. Know that strong feelings of anger, despair or fear may come up during the session, and having a written outline will help you stay on task. Presenting a child custody parenting plan that is well thought-out, realistic and takes into perspective your child’s point of view and developmental needs will bode well for you in the eyes of the Child Custody Recommending Counselor. Being prepared for child custody recommending counseling and writing down your concerns and proposals will help you stay on track, especially if you become nervous or overcome with emotion during the meeting with the Child Custody Recommending Counselor.
Keep in mind that some Child Custody Recommending Counselors do not allow you to bring inessential documentation such as witness testimonies or even photos to show to the Child Custody Recommending Counselor. Therefore, check the local rules on your county’s family law court website before you submit or bring documents to the child custody recommending counseling meeting. If your child has special needs, consider bringing a list of collateral contacts to provide to the Child Custody Recommending Counselor, including names, addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and relationship to your child. Collateral contacts are those individuals such as teachers, doctors and psychologists whom you will want the Child Custody Recommending Counselor to contact following the child custody recommending counseling meeting in order to help clarify any questions they may have about you and your child. Before you finalize your collateral contact list, be sure that these individuals are advocates who have had enough contact with you to comment on their observations regarding your parenting as well as your good character. Each jurisdiction has different rules, so again, be sure to know the rules before you attend the court-ordered child custody recommending counseling meeting.
2. Meet with a Professional before Child Custody Recommending Counseling. If your budget allows, meeting with a professional counselor who is trained to help prepare you for family law court child custody recommending counseling may be an invaluable help to you. For many parents, half the battle in preparing for child custody recommending counseling is knowing how to present yourself, especially when you are overwhelmed with emotion. A counselor who is trained at helping prepare you for family law court custody recommending counseling will provide you with useful tools on how to present your position in a constructive manner so you can get important points across to Child Custody Recommending Counselor as well as how to portray yourself as a reasonable, flexible parent, how to refrain from confrontation, and how to counter any personal attacks by the other parent during child custody recommending counseling.
If you do not have the funds to pay for a professional counselor, practice voicing your main points, concerns, and preferences by referring to your written outline as noted above; use it to help you stay on a constructive course and get your voice heard during child custody recommending counseling.
3. Consider Talking to The Other Parent Prior to Child Custody Recommending Counseling. It may seem futile to attempt to talk to the other parent prior to family law court child custody recommending counseling since the lack of communication is what landed you in the California Family Law Court in the first place. However, it may be worthwhile to reach out to the other parent prior to child custody recommending counseling to discuss undecided issues and try once again to reach an agreement on any of these concerns. If you can agree on any of the disputed points prior to child custody recommending counseling, the child custody recommending counseling process may turn out to be less of a painful, intimidating experience and instead one that is productive and helpful.
Finally, remember that while the goal of court-appointed child custody recommending counseling is to come to an agreement regarding child custody, co-parenting time and co-parenting issues, you should not feel pressured to sign an agreement with which you are uncomfortable. If you need time to think about the parenting plan before you sign an agreement, then by all means, speak up and take the time to reflect before making any decisions. The goal is to establish a parenting plan that is in the best interests of your children, so keep that in mind throughout this whole process.
4. Take Time to Educate Yourself about Parenting and Co-parenting. The Child Custody Recommending Counselor will often recommend that parents take a co-parent class or go to co-parent counseling. Take time to educate yourself prior to child custody recommending counseling to learn communication skills and emotional management on how to be a good co-parent. Then use the communication skills in the child custody recommending counseling to listen to and work with the other parent. The Child Custody Recommending Counselor will value the efforts for cooperation and willingness to co-parent
For more information on Co-parenting, read Carol Delzer’s book, 8 weeks to Collaborative Co-parenting, available on Amazon, or take Ms. Delzer’s online co-parent class, Collaborative Co-Parenting, at www.collaborativecoparenting.com and bring your certificate of completion to the child custody recommending counseling.
Consider seeking help to prepare for Family Court Mediation with a Child Specialist, Divorce Coach or experienced Family Law Expert.