Do I have to go to mediation even if I am a domestic violence victim?
If your county court uses mediation, yes. In those counties, a judge is supposed to refer the parties for mediation whenever the parents don’t agree on custody and visitation matters - this could come when a parent first files the initial petition or when a parent files a petition to modify an existing order. In addition, even before filing a petition for custody or a petition to modify a custody order, the parent can ask the judge to refer the parties to mediation first and the judge has the power to do so.1 However, if you have made allegations of domestic abuse in the custody case or if you have a DVRO, you can request that the mediator meet with you and the other parent in separate sessions.2 Therefore, remember to speak up if you do not want to be in the same room with the abuser during mediation.
Note: Some counties will allow you to bring your lawyer with you into mediation; others will not. However, if you don’t have a lawyer, you should be allowed to bring a support person with you (a friend, family member, advocate, etc.) to mediation or to sit with you in court at the custody hearing (where a lawyer would normally sit) when you have made allegations of domestic abuse.3
1 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3170
2 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3181
3 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6303(c)