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Child Custody Mediation

Mandated Mediation
Family Code section 3170 requires mediation whenever issues of custody or visitation are in dispute. This applies whenever a "party to the cause" wants to obtain or change a custody or visitation order and the other party does not agree to the change.

What is Child Custody Mediation?
Mediation is a process of negotiation between people with the help of a professional mediator who will assist them in reaching an agreement regarding custody and parenting issues.

Family Court Services Mediation is provided free of charge to the parties and generally occurs before the first court appearance. Judicial officers have discretion to impose sanctions regarding the payment of mediation fees under certain circumstances.

What is the purpose of mediation?
1. To help reduce the hostility that may exist between the parties;
2. To develop an agreement that assures the child(ren) frequent and continuing contact with both parents and that assures the health, safety and welfare of the child(ren).
3. To achieve a resolution of the issues of custody and rights to parenting time that is in the best interest of the child(ren).

What does mediation include?
Mediation may include, but is not limited to, meeting with the parents, child(ren), other parties who may be legally joined to the case, and other individuals who may have information about the situation.

When does mediation occur?
Generally, mediation occurs approximately one to two weeks before the scheduled court hearing on disputed custody and visitation issues.

Who conducts mediation?
The court contracts with experienced mental health professionals who have advanced degrees and specialized training in areas pertaining to children and families. These areas include, but are not limited to, parenting techniques, children's developmental stages, domestic violence, substance abuse, child abuse/neglect and conflict resolution.

What if we can't reach an agreement during mediation?
In most cases, parties can successfully resolve and agree on custody and parenting time issues. Mediator may assist the parents to prepare a written custody and parenting agreement. However, if the parties are unable to reach a full or partial agreement, mediator will not prepare any report and will not communicate with the court about what happened during mediation.

The parties will proceed to the hearing for the judicial officer (judge or commissioner) to make the decision and issue an order on the disputed issues.

What is a child custody evaluation?
Court may order an appointment of a child custody evaluator if it is determined that it is in the child’s best interests (Family Code 3111). A custody evaluation is an investigation and analysis of the health, safety, welfare, and best interests of the child that provides the court recommendations regarding the issues specified in the order. This may include, but is not limited to, interviews with the parents, children, other parties who may be legally joined to the case, and other individuals who may have information about the situation. The evaluation may also include review of documents written by other mental health professionals, or other important reports (i.e., court records, police reports, etc.) relating to the family. The evaluator may also visit the home or the school site as appropriate.

A custody evaluation generally takes 60 to 90 days to complete and the parties must pay a fee for this service. For additional information, please click here for Child Custody Evaluation FL 3111.

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