California courts order couples to mediation when custody or visitation terms are in dispute.  Court-ordered mediation can occur whether initially determining temporary or permanent divorce orders, or during a custody modification.  A mediator listens to both parents, acts as a neutral third party, and helps parents consider options to resolve their issues.  Resolutions that parents reach must serve the children’s best interests and allow children to spend time with both parents.

Domestic violence cases generally require different handlings.  In these cases, parents have the right to private, individual sessions with the mediator, and the mediator works to insulate a parent from the other parent’s anger or resentment when working toward a compromise.  Family Court Services handle domestic violence cases based on specific protocols approved by the Judicial Council, which may involve services such as parent education programs, video recordings, booklets, and referrals to additional community resources.

If you are interested in seeing the guidelines the court uses for court-ordered mediation, they are covered in California Family Code Section 3170–3173.

Other custody matters where the courts order mediation include issues involving—

  • Stepparent visitation
  • Grandparent visitation

California county courts have different rules for dealing with mediated custody cases. In some counties, the courts request written recommendations from mediators. The court may incorporate the mediator’s recommendation into its final decision for custody arrangements. Other counties maintain mediation confidentiality and do not require mediators to provide recommendations. In these courts, judges use other means to arrive at final rulings.