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Mediation is problem solving, not counseling. Your disagreement is seen as a problem to solve, not as a fight. Mediation lets you make your own decisions. You can come up with your own personal contract on how you will care for your children now that you no longer live together. The legal term for this personal contract is “stipulation.” It can also be called a “parenting plan” or a “parenting agreement.”


What Does
A Mediator Do


If There
Has Been
Domestic Violence


Ways to

Custody & Visitation


What Do Mediators Do?

A mediator meets with both parents, listens to each of you, and then works with you so you can come up with a plan you can both agree is best for your child. The mediator's job is to be impartial, keep things fair, help you look at different options, help you come up with a calendar for times with the children, and support you in your efforts.


Mediation Rules


Each parent is treated with respect and has an equal chance to explain his or her viewpoint and concerns.


Each parent listens to the other and tries to find realistic solutions.


Each parent is asked to put the children first and focus on what the children need and can handle.


Each parent is asked to show respect for the other and to recognize that their child has a right to a relationship with each of them.


Hitting, pushing, shoving, and threats of any type are not allowed and considered domestic violence. Mediation is to be a safe place for both parents.


The mediator's job is to see that these rules are followed.



If There Has Been Domestic Violence

If you or a family member has any concerns about domestic violence, please do three things:


Tell your lawyer if you have one.


Answer all of the questions from the judge or mediation intake person about this problem.


Talk to your mediator about this problem at the beginning of the mediation session.

KEEP IN MIND: The course of your session with the mediator can be determined by whether you have a domestic violence restraining order in effect and whether there has been a history of domestic violence between you and the other parent. In these cases, you have a right, subject to certain limitations, to have a support person with you during mediation and in the courtroom. You may also choose to see the mediator alone and at a different time from the other parent.

Also, if a mediator suspects any kind of child abuse, he or she is required by law to report it. Anyone who knowingly submits a false report of abuse is committing a crime. Ask your mediator for a list of community resources available to assist you and your children.



Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What happens if we can’t agree on everything in mediation?

  • A: After mediation, the next steps will differ from court to court. In some courts, the next step would be a meeting with your attorney (if you have one); in others you would proceed to a hearing before a judge. In some courts, the mediator is asked to make a recommendation to the court about what is best for the children. The judge considers this recommendation and may or may not follow it. Ask your mediator how it works in your court. Please remember that no matter how sensitive or understanding a judge or commissioner may be, that person does not know your children the way you do. Therefore, coming to your own agreement instead of going to court can often be best for everyone.

Q: If I have a lawyer, will my lawyer have a chance to look at my agreement before I go to court?

  • A: Yes. All lawyers should review your agreement before you go before the judge.

Q: Can children or relatives be involved in a mediation?

  • A: Whether children or relatives can be involved in mediation depends on the situation. If you think there is a reason for your children or a person close to you to be in mediation, tell your mediator.

Q: What are the mediator’s qualifications?

  • A: Before someone can be considered as a court mediator, he or she is required by California law to have (1) a master’s degree in counseling, social work, or a related field; and (2) a minimum of two years’ work experience in the mental health arena before coming to the court. Additional education may be substituted or some experience and additional experience may be substituted for some education. Most mediators, however, have many more years of experience and are also licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, or psychologists. Court mediators also receive between 16 and 26 hours of continuing education each year.

Q: How long will the mediation take?

  • A: For many people, one or two sessions are enough.



Ways to Communicate

The way parents express their thoughts and feelings to one another and to their child(ren) makes a big difference in how well everyone adjusts to separation or divorce. One way that seems to work is to think about the other parent more formally, perhaps as a business associate or co-worker. Behaving and speaking in a more “businesslike” manner can help you move away from the pain and stress and help you focus on raising your child(ren). Your ultimate goal is to develop a way to work with the other parent for the best interest of your child(ren). It may not be easy at first, but people who keep saying it, find it worth all the effort in the long run. Here are some tips:


Use common courtesy when you talk, just as you would at work.


Stay on the subject. Focus on your goal of doing what is in the child(ren)’s best interest.


Keep your emotions in check. Try to keep them under control, just as you do at work.


Be as clear and specific as possible when making arrangements. Put things in writing and keep businesslike records of important agreements between you.


Keep your commitments. Value your reputation as someone who is trustworthy and reliable. This is especially important to your child(ren) now.


Watch the words you use when talking about divorce.



Custody and Visitation Agreement

Your Parenting Plan

Your parenting plan is a legal document; it is also very personal. The court expects you to come up with a plan that is in the best interest of your child. A good parenting plan does all the following:

  • Meets your child’s basic needs for love, protection, guidance, a healthy diet, good medical care, and sufficient rest.
  • Takes into account your child’s age, personality, experiences, and ability. Each child is unique. Adapt your plan to your children, not your children to your plan.
  • Provides your child with regular, consistent times with each of you for day-to-day care, overnights, activities, schoolwork, vacations, and holidays. A calendar is especially helpful.
  • Has enough detail to make it easy to understand and to enforce.
  • Gives your child a sense of security and a predictable routine.
  • Tips for Thinking About Custody and What to Put in Your Parenting Plan

Physical custody - time with the children. Think about activities, overnights, and day-to-day care:

  • Where should my child be during the regular week? Weekends?
  • Where should my child be on holidays, summer vacations, and special days?
  • Which parent will take responsibility for which activities (sports, music, homework)?
  • Which parent takes full responsibility at which times?
  • What will the transportation arrangements be and who will pay the costs?

Legal custody - making decisions. Be clear and specific about which decisions will be made by each parent and which decisions by both.

  • Schools?
  • Daycare?
  • Religious affiliation?
  • Medical and dental care?
  • Emergency care?
  • Jobs and driving (older children)?

Keeping up-to-date. Except in cases of abuse or violence:

  • Both parents may have information about the child.
  • Both parents may telephone the child.
  • Both parents may access the child’s medical and school records.
  • Each parent may have the other parent’s address and phone numbers.

Making Your Parenting Agreement Work

Use a calendar - A calendar that shows where the children will be and when can serve as a good road map for everyone. Put your calendar in a place that is easy to see. If there is a change, explain why. Most children and parents do better when they are clear about what to expect.

Observe your children - You know your children. Watch to see how well they do with the parenting plan schedule. If they are not doing well, talk it over with the other parent and try to find a solution. Remember, especially during times of crisis, children need a sense of security and a predictable routine. Reassure them that the separation or divorce is not their fault and tell them often that you love them and will take care of them. Let them tell you how they feel about the changes that have affected them and what they need from you, their parent.

When you don’t agree

Over the years ahead, there will be times when parents do not agree on what is best for their children. This is natural — it happens even in the most cooperative relationships. Do your best to listen to and respect the other parent’s point of view. Keep your emotions in check just as you do at work. Review the Ways to Communicate section above. Remember your goal: "I will do what is in the best interest of my children and I will keep my children out of the middle of any disagreements."

Changing your plan

Your parenting plan may need to be changed as your children grow older or when circumstances change. If this happens, talk it over between the two of you or use an impartial third party such as a minister or counselor. If that does not work, you may want to consider returning to family court mediation.


Be sure to ask your mediator or your lawyer any questions you may have. Your family court will do all it can to make this process as smooth as possible.