Procedures for Family Court Mediation

This Appendix explains more about the rules and procedures for child custody mediation—which can help to resolve disagreements about the care of a child.

What is child custody mediation?

Child custody mediation is a meeting place through the court for parents and caregivers to handle disagreements about custody and visitation plans for their children.[2613] In mediation, there is another person, a third-party mediator, who helps parents or caregivers come to an agreement. After mediation, the judge must sign this agreement in court to make it official. In some cases, the judge will make changes that he or she believes are in the “best interest of the child.”[2614]


IMPORTANT! Child custody mediation may not be appropriate in cases of domestic violence. A mediator’s role is to help resolve issues between parents who disagree, not to address issues related to domestic violence.

What happens in child custody mediation?

The mediator will meet with you and the other parent (or caregiver), either together or separately with your attorneys. The mediator will first ask questions to understand your family history and will share information about what children generally need at different ages.[2615] The child(ren) may be interviewed to better understand the situation.[2616]

Appointments with your mediator may last only a short time or take several hours. You may also meet with the mediator more than once.

If the parents are able to agree, the mediator helps the parents write a custody and visitation plan. If the custody and visitation plan is signed by the judge, this plan becomes an official court order. But it’s not official until signed by the judge.

In some counties in California, the mediator will make recommendations, as well, and may provide that written recommendation to the judge.

Who is the mediator in child custody mediation?

A mediator is a person who has been professionally trained (usually has a graduate degree) to help resolve disagreements between two people figuring out parenting plans, and knows a lot about the California family court system.

The mediator will not and cannot know you or the other parent/caregiver because he or she is supposed to listen to both of you equally and fairly.[2617] The mediator helps you decide when the children will be with each parent, how future decisions about your children will be made and will help you consider the best way to protect your children’s safety and well-being.[2618]

The mediator may also have additional information about community services that may be helpful to you and your child(ren).

How do I find a mediator?

You can find low-cost mediators on the following website: (organized by county).

I do not speak English and/or English is not my first language. Can I get an interpreter for my child custody mediation appointment?

It depends on the court. If you need an interpreter, you can ask your mediator if he/she has any recommendations. Also be sure to ask if there will be a fee, and if there is a fee for an interpreter, whether or not it can be waived (removed).

Can the child custody mediators make recommendations about who gets custody and visitation?

It depends on the court. In some local family courts, mediators make recommendations to the judge about child custody and visitation. In these courts, if you and the other parent cannot agree on a parenting plan through mediation, the mediator is asked to give the court a written recommendation. This recommendation will contain the mediator’s opinion about what parenting arrangement will be in your children’s best interest. Both you and the other parent (or caregiver) will also get a copy of the mediator’s recommendation.

In other courts, mediation is confidential and the mediators do NOT make a recommendation to the court about child custody and visitation. If the parents agree on any issues, the mediator may provide the court with a written summary that summarizes the issues that the parents agree on.

Usually, mediators interview both sides together, but if there has been domestic violence or there is a restraining order between the parents or other concerns about meeting together, the parents may ask to meet with the mediator separately. Sometimes, even when there is no domestic violence, the mediator may decide it is more appropriate and helpful to meet separately with each parent. The special rules about mediation allow the mediator to do this.

Is child custody mediation confidential?

It depends on the court. The things you tell your mediator, either alone and/or with your child’s caregiver, may not be kept secret (confidential). Ask for information in writing as to whether your conversations will be kept secret or shared with others. You can also ask the Family Law Facilitator about confidentiality and mediation.

IMPORTANT: If a mediator suspects that there is child abuse or has concerns about the physical safety of the child(ren), he or she may need to report the case to the local child protective services (CPS) or the court.


will we be forced to make an agreement in the child custody mediation appointment?

No. You will not be forced or required to make an agreement if you participate in child custody mediation. HOWEVER, before you enter into mediation, you should ask your mediator and/or the judge in family court what could happen if you do not reach an agreement with the other parent/caregiver.

If you and the other parent/caregiver reach an agreement on your parenting/caregiving plan:

The mediator will usually prepare a written agreement for both parents to sign. If neither parent has a lawyer, the mediator or the parents will give the agreement to the judge to approve and sign. When the judge signs it, it becomes an official court order. However, if you do have a lawyer, ask your lawyer any questions you have and ask your lawyer to review your written agreement BEFORE you sign it.

If you and the other parent/caregiver do NOT reach an agreement on your parenting/caregiving plan, the following may happen:

    There may be a court hearing or settlement conference with the judge to resolve issues.
    The judge may make decisions on a parenting plan for you.
    The judge may order a child custody evaluation by a mental health professional to get more information before making a decision. Keep reading for more information on child custody evaluations.
    In some courts, the judge may ask the mediator to make a recommendation, and will often approve and order that recommendation.
What happens after child custody mediation?

If you and the other parent/caregiver reach an agreement on your parenting/caregiving plan:

The mediator will write up a plan for both of you to sign. Once the judge approves and signs it, it becomes a court order.

If you and the other parent/caregiver do NOT reach an agreement on your parenting/caregiving plan:

What happens next depends on the court – so you should ask the mediator or Family Law Facilitator about how the process works in your local court. Here’s what happens in many cases:

    Usually, there is a court hearing or settlement conference where everyone can decide on custody, visitation and child support. The judge may then decide on a parenting/caregiving plan and issue a custody and visitation order.
    Before issuing a custody and visitation order, the judge may require a custody evaluation by a mental health professional. The judge may also ask the mediator for a recommendation (in some courts).[2619]
  1. 2613

    Cal. Fam. Code § 3160 – 3165.

  2. 2614

    Judicial Council of Cal., “Custody Mediation,” (2015),

  3. 2615

    Judicial Council of Cal., “Custody Mediation,” (2015),

  4. 2616

    Judicial Council of Cal., “Custody Mediation,” (2015),

  5. 2617

    Judicial Council of Cal., “Custody Mediation,” (2015),

  6. 2618

    Child Custody Mediation, California Courts: The Judicial Branch,

  7. 2619

    Judicial Council of Cal., “Custody Mediation,” (2015),