by Mary Melech
If you have been ordered to attend mediation for your child custody dispute, one of your first steps is to determine whether your county is a reporting/recommending county or non-reporting/non-recommending county. In the context of mediation, the terms, “reporting” and “recommending” are used interchangeably; the same is true for the terms, “non-reporting” and “non-recommending”.
Regardless of whether your case is filed out of a “reporting” or “non-reporting” county, mediation is a process whereby court-appointed mediators assist parents in creating a custodial/visitation plan that supports the child’s needs, as well as those of the parents. The parties are not allowed to have their attorney present at mediation, and each party will be given the chance to tell his or her side to the mediator. The goal of mediation is to reach a complete agreement on child custody and visitation.
If you live in a reporting county, your mediator will prepare a report with his or her recommendations regarding child custody and visitation. The mediator is expected to make his or her recommendations with the child’s best interests in mind, and the judge will be able to review this report. In the Southern California area, the reporting counties include San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego.
For reporting counties, it is crucial that you meet with an experienced family law attorney before your mediation appointment to discuss the best way to handle yourself and address your concerns to the mediator. The mediator’s recommendations can be very persuasive to the judge assigned to your case.
In non-reporting counties, your mediator will not create a report with recommendations. Instead, your mediator will either draft a proposed order reflecting the parties’ agreement reached at mediation, or prepare a form indicating that no agreement was reached. In Southern California, the non-reporting counties include Orange and Los Angeles.
Although mediators do not make recommendations to the Court in non-reporting counties, it is still important for you to prepare for mediation with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney. If you are unable to reach an agreement, your performance and interaction with the other parent during mediation will “set the tone” for future litigation. It is always best to start off on the right foot with knowledgeable legal counsel.