Child custody is a tricky issue in the law, and California courts are cautious when deciding child custody disputes. The court decides on child custody and parental obligations if the parties can't agree on their own.
Courts make these decisions based on what they determine to be the best interests of the child, but
if it is possible and prudent to do so, the courts try to get the parents to decide these issues on their own. In order to facilitate these discussions, many county courts will require the parents to go through mediation. In San Mateo County courts, Family Court Services refers to this type of mediation as "child custody recommending counseling." In some cases, parents may work with private mediators.
Before meeting with a child custody recommending counselor, Family Court Services requires parents to complete a class called "Parent Orientation." This class is meant to introduce parents to the basics of child custody and parenting plans, and to let them know what to expect from the recommending counseling. The class can be attended in person or online.
If the parents reach an agreement in the child custody recommending counseling session, or with a private mediator, they can draft a stipulation and court order for their parenting plan. They can get help doing this from the county office of the Family Law Facilitator. If they can't reach an agreement, the mediator or recommending counselor must make a recommendation to the judge.
An attorney can help with many stages of this process, advising or representing parents before and during mediation, and arguing on their behalf at court hearings. These are sensitive matters, and the best interests of the child must be foremost in everyone's minds at all times. Still, parents have rights and deserve help defending those rights and protecting their relationship with their children.
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