Family Court Services (FCS) mediation is an informal process required by the court for any parties that are disputing child custody and visitation. The court uses this process to give parents an opportunity to come to an agreement prior to going to family court.
Both parents will sit down with an FCS mediator for an hour or so and discuss their child(ren), their current schedule, relationships between the child(ren) and each parent, school, and any special needs of the child.
The mediator will hear concerns from each parent whether it be work schedule, other relationships, drugs/alcohol abuse, past Child Protective Service involvement, family dynamics, and overall wellbeing of the child. Each parent will get an opportunity to speak and respond to what the other parent says.
The mediator will often ask for a proposed parenting schedule from each party. He or she will go over holidays and attempt to work out a schedule that is fair and reasonable for each party as well as what’s in the best interest of the child(ren).
Attorneys are not allowed to go to the FCS mediation with the parents, so it is important to meet with your attorney and prepare for the FCS session. Go over your specific concerns, proposed schedule, and general questions you will most likely be asked.
The mediators are allowed to talk to the children in certain instances if the child is above a certain age (usually 12), but can also make collateral contacts to the child(ren)’s therapist, school counselors, teachers, coaches, doctors, and/or any other adult that has information about the child(ren)’s wellbeing.
Once the mediator has completed the session, he or she will write a report for the family court with recommendations they feel will be in the best interest of the child(ren), such as legal custody (who will make health, education, and welfare decisions) and physical custody (who the child will primarily reside with).
The mediator will also recommend holiday, school breaks, and vacation schedules as well as classes such as co-parenting, substance abuse, anger classes, and/or individual therapy for one of both parties.
Each parent and their attorneys will receive a copy of the mediator’s report and should review their recommendations before the court date. The judge takes these reports pretty seriously and highly rely on the FCS mediators to compile all the relevant information about the parties and the child(ren) since the judge does not have as much time to spend with the parties.
At the hearing, you can request that the recommendations be adopted and become a part of the court’s orders with or without modifications.
If you are able to reach an agreement on your parenting plan during the FCS mediation, you can have a stipulation and order written up and avoid the court hearing all together so long as all the issues have been resolved.
The FCS mediator will not discuss any financials such as child support and spousal support in the mediation; it is limited to only child custody and visitation. Most of the time though, if the parties agree on the timeshare, your attorney can help you calculate what guideline child support would be without having to go to court, as long as the parties agree.
If you or anyone you know needs assistance with child custody and visitation or preparing for their FCS mediation, please call Cage & Miles, LLP for a free 30-minute consultation.