Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Child Custody Mediation

The Office of Family Court Services (FCS) is located in Room 104 of the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse at 3341 Power Inn Road, Sacramento, CA 95826 and is open to the public from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

FCS performs Confidential Mediation and Child Custody Recommending Counseling for parties who have an established case in Sacramento County. It also provides assessments for under-age marriage permissions, and emancipation evaluations upon court referral. These services are provided free of charge by experienced Family Court Counselors (or Mediators) who have Master's Degrees, specialized training, and experience working with children and families. The areas of specialized training include, but are not limited to conflict resolution, parenting techniques, children's developmental stages, domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse and neglect.

All services provided by FCS are confidential. However, by law, the Mediator will disclose information about your case if they suspect that someone is at imminent risk of harm. Specifically, if the Mediator suspects that a child has been abused or neglected, they will file a report with Child Protective Services or a law enforcement agency. Likewise, if they think that one of the people involved in the case may hurt himself/herself or someone else, they will contact a law enforcement agency and warn the threatened person.

If you want to establish a parenting plan, you have choices...

Benefits: No need to come to FCS or have a court hearing.

This is Best When:

  • You communicate well with the other party
  • You have already set up or are following a parenting plan that works for your child and both parents
  • You would like to formalize your parenting plan with a court order

Forms:

Parenting Plan by Agreement packet

Benefits:

No report is issued if you do not reach a full agreement with the other party. If you do, the Mediator will help you prepare a written agreement.

You do not have to go to court unless you reach a full agreement and want that turned into a court order.

This is Best When:

  • You have fair to good communications with the other party
  • There is no domestic violence or other safety issues
  • You only have a few issues you would like to work out with the other party
  • You would like the possibility of formalizing your agreement with a court order

Forms:

Petition for Confidential Mediation Packet

Detailed Information:

Confidential Mediation is a great tool for parents who are communicating and where there is no history of domestic violence. In Confidential Mediation, parties meet with a Mediator who will help the parties put together their parenting plan.

If you have an existing Sacramento County Superior Court case, you may obtain free Confidential Mediation without filing a Request for Order. You can do this by completing the Petition for Confidential Mediation Packet. File your completed Petition for Confidential Mediation at the Family Court Services window (there is no filing fee) and an appointment will be scheduled for you to meet with a Mediator.

If, during the mediation session, you reach a full agreement with the other party, the Mediator will help you complete the necessary forms that you can then submit to the court to become an order. If you do not reach an agreement, no report or recommendations will be issued, and the matter is closed without a hearing or orders being made.

You may return to FCS for Confidential Mediation three months and one day after your last Confidential Mediation appointment.

Benefits:

You get help from a professional

You have a court hearing and will receive a court order

This is Best When:

  • You have not been to mediation (CCRC or Private Mediation) in the last six months
  • Communication with the other party is difficult
  • There is a history of violence or other safety issues
  • You have not been able to reach an agreement on a parenting plan with the other party
  • There has been a significant change in circumstances (for example, one party needs to move out of the area for work)
  • You want a court order

Forms:

Request for Order packet

Orientation:

Before deciding that CCRC is the right choice for you, please view the FCS Orientation.

Detailed Information:

Family Code section 3170 - external link requires Child Custody Recommending Counseling (CCRC) take place whenever issues of custody or visitation are in dispute. This applies whenever a party to the case wants to obtain or change a custody or visitation order, and the other party does not agree to the change.

Child Custody Recommending Counseling is a form of negotiation or mediation between people with the help of a professional Child Custody Recommending Counselor (or Mediator), who is a mental health professional. The Mediator works with the parties to reach an agreement regarding custody, visitation and parenting issues for the children. If the parties reach a full agreement before or during mediation, the Mediator will prepare a report of the agreement that will be available to the parties and the court before the scheduled hearing. If the parties reach a partial agreement or they do not agree on anything, the Mediator will make recommendations to the court on the items still in dispute.

Child Custody Recommending Counseling 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 and organizations who may have information about the situation. CCRC only addresses what transpired in the recent past and helps you develop a parenting plan for the next year, which you can modify as your situation or your child’s needs change.

There are three ways to obtain CCRC services to assist you in resolving your dispute:

  1. If you file a request for a court hearing and order for custody and/or visitation issues (using a Request for Order packet), you will automatically be referred to FCS for CCRC, if you have not participated in mediation within the last 6 months.
  2. If a case cannot be mediated at FCS because of a serious conflict of interest, we may refer your case for CCRC by the Family Court Services unit of a nearby county. Conflict of interest exists in cases where one or both of the parties (or their spouses) are family law attorneys; Social Workers in certain departments of Sacramento’s Child Protective Services; Sacramento Court employees; and, relatives, friends, or co-workers of the assigned Family Court Counselor.

  3. Pursuant to Local Rule 5.18, you may petition the court for an order to participate in Private Child Custody Recommending Counseling (See forms listed in Option 4: Private Mediation). Private CCRC is conducted by Recommending Counselors who are not connected to the court. There is a fee for Private CCRC, which you pay directly to the Recommending Counselor.
  4. If you receive an order for Private Child Custody Recommending Counseling, your FCS file (with the exception of Child Protective Services records) may be made available to the Private Recommending Counselor at their request.

  5. The court may refer you directly to Family Court Services following a court hearing. The referral may be for regular CCRC or for an Immediate appointment. An Immediate appointment generally occurs in cases where the court believes either parent presents an immediate danger or risk of harm to the children. This may involve (but is not limited to) possible child abuse, domestic violence, alcohol or substance abuse, or allegations of flight risk or abduction. Parties are usually seen in FCS within a few days of the court's referral and the return court hearing is generally set for 1 to 3 days after that.

When you appear at FCS, you will be given a date and time to meet with a Mediator along with paperwork for you to read and complete prior to your scheduled appointment. There are some exceptions to this:

  • If a CCRC report was issued within the 6 months before the date you are filing your RFO regarding custody and visitation or your Petition for Confidential Mediation, we are not able to set an appointment.
  • If you are not present in FCS when the appointment is set, information about the appointment and the paperwork you need to complete will be mailed to you at the address provided by the filing party.

If a Domestic Violence Restraining Order is in place, or if a party declares under penalty of perjury that there is a history of domestic violence by the other party, the parties are entitled to separate sessions. Please read the paperwork you will be given (or receive by mail) carefully and follow the instructions for requesting separate sessions.

If you reside out-of-state or it would be an extreme hardship to appear in person for your CCRC appointment, you may call the FCS office (916-875-2580) to request participation by telephone. Please call 3 days in advance of your appointment, as appearing by telephone must be pre-approved by FCS.

Once an appointment is set, it can only be rescheduled if both parties agree and both parties call FCS to request a different appointment.

Generally, CCRC appointments are scheduled approximately 2 weeks before your scheduled hearing on custody and visitation issues. This gives you a limited but sufficient amount of time to submit documents to FCS. There are two ways to submit written information, which the Mediator will review before or after your appointment, but before writing their report:

  1. Through the required Family Court Services (FCS) Parenting Plan Questionnaire, which you will receive from FCS when you set your appointment (or in the mail) This form should be completed and submitted to FCS before or on the day of your scheduled appointment. The Parenting Plan Questionnaire does not need to be served on the other party or parties.
  2. Through the optional submission of Additional Documents, which you or your attorney may submit before or on the day of your appointment. The Mediator may not receive any additional documents after your appointment.

In order for your additional documents to be accepted by FCS for review by the Mediator, you or your attorney must carefully follow the requirements below:

  • You may submit no more than 10 single-sided pages of documentation.
  • Each page needs to have a title or description at the top of the page.
  • A Proof of Service form (FL-330) or a Proof of Service by Mail form FL-335) signed by a third party (age 18 or older and not a party to the case) must be completed and attached to the documents you are submitting. Be sure to carefully identify (list) the title of each document you are submitting on the Proof of Service form.
  • The third party who is completing the service must either hand deliver copies of the documents to the other party (and his/her attorney) and to anyone legally joined to the case at least five (5) calendar days before the scheduled appointment or mail copies of the documents to the other party (and his/her attorney) and anyone legally joined to the case at least ten (10) calendar days before the scheduled appointment.

The only time the Mediator may speak to you is during your appointment. You (and your attorney) may not speak with the Mediator before or after the appointment unless all parties are present or have given their consent.

Check-In: Please arrive 15 minutes early for your CCRC appointment so that you can get checked-in at the FCS window and submit your completed paperwork.

Children: Please bring all children ages 5 years and older who are directly involved in the case. While it is up to the discretion of the Mediator as to whether the children will be interviewed, you still must bring them to the appointment. The parent bringing the children to the appointment should arrive early enough to check your children between the ages of 5 and 12 years of age into the Children's Waiting Room, which is located on the first floor in Room 111. Because space in the Children's Waiting Room is limited, please make other arrangements for children 4 years and under. The Mediator will get the children from the Waiting Room when/if they are going to meet with them and will let you know when their interview is finished.

Safety Concerns: The parties will meet together with the Mediator unless there is a Restraining Order (or one party declares under penalty of perjury that there is a history of domestic violence by the other party) and the protected party requests to meet separately.

If there is a Restraining Order in effect or an allegation of domestic violence made under penalty of perjury, the victim may have a support person present during the appointment. The Mediator will ask the support person to sign a statement indicating that they will not attempt to participate, act as an advocate, contribute to a disruption, or violate the confidentiality of the session. The Mediator has the discretion to ask the support person to leave if they are unable to follow those rules.

Missed Appointment: Because of the short time frame between the CCRC appointment and the court hearing, another appointment cannot be scheduled. If the other party attends as scheduled, the Mediator will go forward without your input. If time allows, the Child Custody Recommending Counselor may attempt to reach you by telephone.

If both parties fail to attend Child Custody Recommending Counseling, the appointment will be "dropped" and the court will be notified. If this occurs, it is important that you still appear at the court hearing on the date scheduled.

After your appointment, the Mediator will write a report that is confidential and is not to be read by or given to anyone other than the court, the parties to the case, or an attorney of record. In addition, parties may not share the report or information within the report to anyone who is not a party to the case.

In certain instances, the court allows the verbal exchange of information to other agencies (such as Law Enforcement and Child Protective Services) within the justice system. Your report, however, is confidential and will not be released to anyone except the parties without a court order. Specific information regarding the release of your report and/or other data from your Family Court Services file can be obtained from Family Court Services.

If you reach an agreement with the other party on all custody and visitation issues, the Mediator will prepare a report with your agreement that will be available to you and the court before the scheduled hearing. You must attend your hearing if you want your agreement to become a court order that is enforceable.

If you reach a partial agreement or do not agree on anything, the Mediator will make recommendations to the court, outlining what they believe to be in your children’s best interest. If you do not agree with the Mediator’s recommendations, be prepared to explain to the court what you believe would be best for your children.

A copy of your report will be available to you and your attorney (if you are represented) through the Public Case Access System (PCAS). You will receive an email when the report is available online (generally 5 days before your scheduled hearing) and you will have 72 hours to review, download and print the report free of charge. If you miss the 72-hour window, you may purchase a copy online or in person at Family Court Services (with a valid form of picture identification) at a cost of fifty cents per page. Either way you get your report, each party is required to bring a copy to court.

If you would like your FCS report considered by the court at trial, you must pay a deposit and subpoena the Mediator at least 10 calendar days in advance, using the Civil Subpoena for Personal Appearance at Trial or Hearing (SUBP-001) form. To subpoena a Mediator, please follow the steps below:

  1. Due to time constraints, please contact FCS in advance to make sure the Mediator is available on the date of your hearing.
  2. When your date is set, come to the courthouse and get a service ticket at Reception in order to pay your deposit. The deposit of $275.00 is paid in the Family Law Clerk's Office and, once paid, you will be given a receipt.
  3. Give the receipt and the completed subpoena to a third party (who is not a party to the case), who will serve it on your behalf. Subpoenas for Mediators are served in the court's Administration Office (which is on the 3rd floor in room 318, and is open Monday-Friday, from 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.).

Depositions also require advance notice, a fee, and a subpoena. Depositions take place at FCS after 3:00 p.m. on a regular court day or at another mutually agreed upon time during regular business hours.

Any unused portion of your deposit will be refunded to you following the conclusion of the trial.

Benefits:

You are often allowed more time for mediation than in CCRC

This is Best When:

  • You are able to pay for the service
  • You have complicated issues that may take more time to mediate
  • You would like the Mediator to gather information from sources outside of the family

Forms:

Petition for Private Child Custody Recommending Counseling (FL/E-LP-601)

Order for Private Child Custody Recommending Counseling (FL/E-LP-603)

Response to the Petition for Private Child Custody Recommending Counseling (must be served with the Petition and Order) (FL/E-LP-602)

Declaration of Private Child Custody Recommending Counselor (must be filed with each counselor proposed in the Petition) (FL/E/FR-411)

Detailed Information:

Pursuant to Local Rule 5.18, you may petition the court for an order to participate in Private Child Custody Recommending Counseling (See forms listed in the Forms section above). Private CCRC is conducted by Recommending Counselors who are not connected to the court. There is a fee for Private CCRC, which you pay directly to the Recommending Counselor.

Family Court Services is committed to delivering the best service possible. If you have a concern regarding your experience, please speak to the Family Court Services Manager in-person, by phone, or in writing (using form FL/E-ME-801 with proof of service to the other party and their attorney). Your feedback is valuable to us but will not result in a new mediation or change in your report.