The judge referred my case for mediation. What is mediation?
Mediation is when a neutral third party helps people communicate in the hope that the two parties can come to an agreement. When mediation is used in a custody case, the mediator will try to bring you and the other parent to an agreement about custody and visitation that is in the child’s best interest.1 The mediator could be a staff member of family court, the probation department, mental health service agency, or anyone else the judge decides to appoint as the mediator.2 Whether or not the judge will make you go to mediation before moving forward with a hearing will depend on the county you are in as well as the judge you’ve been assigned.3
If you don’t reach an agreement with the other parent, in some counties, the mediator will make a recommendation to the judge about what s/he thinks the custody / visitation order should be. However, the mediator will have to give the parties and their attorneys, including counsel for any minor children, the recommendations in writing in advance of the hearing. The judge will ask at the hearing if the parties and their attorneys have received the recommendations in writing. Also, the mediator could recommend that there be an investigation into the condition of the home and family life, recommend other services (counseling, etc.) that the mediator thinks would help you and the other parent come to an agreement, and also recommend that the judge issue restraining orders if the mediator thinks that the child could be in danger of domestic violence. In other counties, the mediator will not tell the judge anything that happened during mediation and will not make any recommendations.4
There should be no fee for the mediation but you can check with the court personnel to be certain.
1 See Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3161; see also Ann.Cal.C.C.P. § 1775.1
2 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3164(a)
3 Ann.Cal.C.C.P. §1775.2(b)
4 Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 3183