When child custody is an issue in your litigation you will attend a Family Court Services ("FCS") mediation (scheduled by the court) if you are litigating in California. This mediation is exclusively dedicated to your child custody issues. This is the policy in California—whether you are in a large city such as Los Angeles and San Diego or even in a small town. It is critical that you are prepared for your mediation. This includes talking to an experienced family law attorney in advance of your mediation appointment.
There are many things a person may do prior to their FCS mediation which will increase the chance of a successful mediation. Many individuals seek the assistance of a lawyer after their mediation because they felt pressured during the session into agreeing to a parenting plan that they are uncomfortable with or because they failed to state something during the mediation that was relevant. If an agreement is not reached, the mediator will make a recommendation for a parenting plan and a designation of a primary custodian. Although these recommendations are not rubber-stamped by the judge, they are given heavy weight.
Obtaining an attorney prior to your mediation will help you prepare for the session. Also, an attorney may prepare declarations and third party statements. A lawyer will make sure these and other important documents are properly filed, served and sent to the mediator in advance. The mediator will not consider them if the proper procedure has not been met.
If you have attended a mediation which resulted in an agreement you are not comfortable with or resulted in an unfavorable recommendation, do not give up. It is always a judge who makes the order. You may obtain an attorney to assist you in court, request a comprehensive custody evaluation, prepare further declarations and or lodgments or even request an evidentiary hearing so witnesses may be called—including the mediator. This will dramatically increase your chances of obtaining a parenting plan you are comfortable with.