If you are going to court in California over a custody dispute, California law requires both parties to try to settle the matter amicably in mediation with a trained counselor who works for the county in which you live. The court assigns responsibility to that individual, known as a “child custody recommending counselor” or “mediator,” to facilitate settlement of your custody dispute with the other party. The counselor will help you develop a custody and visitation schedule that is in the best interest of your child or children. If you come to an agreement, it will be put in writing and presented to the judge, who will declare it an order of the court. In some situations, you can avoid court altogether if you come to your agreement soon enough before the court hearing date. This approach usually results in the best outcome for parents, as well as for their children. For most cases, an out-of-court settlement reduces animosity between the parents and it decreases the costs of litigation.

However, if you can’t come to an agreement at that meeting, you will have to argue your position in front of the judge assigned for your case. In many counties, including Sacramento and Alameda counties, the counselor will make a recommendation to the court about a custody and visitation schedule. However, their views about what is in the best interest of children may differ significantly from the preferences of parents. Of course, neither a counselor nor a judge could know your children better than you and the other party, so it behooves you to attempt to settle the terms of custody and visitation at the meeting with the child custody recommending counselor.

If you live in a county in which the counselor makes recommendations to the court, I emphasize how important this meeting is, and how conscientiously you should prepare for such meeting. In my experience, many people do not thoroughly prepare for the meeting because they incorrectly believe that the court appearance is the most important aspect of their custody dispute. If you are looking for a family law attorney, make sure to find one who will help prepare you as well as possible for a constructive meeting with the child custody recommending counselor. Only with adequate counsel and preparation can you feel more comfortable and confident in this meeting, with the knowledge to persuasively express exactly what you believe is in the best interest of your child or children.