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Family Court Services Mediation

If you or your spouse filed for divorce in San Diego and filed a motion for custody or visitation you have received a Family Court Services (FCS) date. This date can have a tremendous impact on the custody and visitation portion of your case. FCS provides counseling in family law cases when the parties cannot agree on a custody arrangement. The goal of the FCS counseling session is to help the parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement based on the best interest of the children.

The information provided to the FCS counselor is not confidential. If no agreement is reached, the mediator will prepare a recommendation, which will be distributed to both parents and the court. The judge has the ability to accept the FCS recommendation and adopt it in full or in part as the custody and visitation order. Since these reports greatly influence family court proceedings, it is important to take FCS mediation seriously.

Not only is it important to attend FCS mediation, it is mandatory. Under California Family Code section 3170, “if it appears on the face of a petition, application, or other pleading to obtain or modify a temporary or permanent custody or visitation order that custody, visitation, or both are contested, the court shall set the contested issues for mediation.” The parties still must attend FCS mediation if allegations of domestic violence are involved in the case. However, different protocol is in place to handle custody and visitation recommendations when domestic violence exists between the parents. This protocol helps ensure the safety of all participants and that each parent feels free to communicate with the mediator. Additionally, if a stepparent or grandparent has petitioned, or otherwise applied, for a visitation order, the court will set the matter for mediation.

Although some form of mediation is required under the California Family Code, the parties are not strictly required to attend FCS of the Superior Court. According to local rule 5.10.1, “before a hearing on any disputed issue of custody or visitation, the parties are required to attend and participate in child custody recommending counseling either with a counselor at FCS of the Superior Court or with a private mediator/child custody recommending counselor at the parties’ own expense.” Therefore, the parties can agree to submit to a private mediator instead of attending FCS mediation. Although private mediation can be more costly, private mediators often have more availability than FCS so your case could proceed before a judge much quicker.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford, is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.