Contested Custody:  What happens when parents cannot agree on a child custody arrangement?

If parents cannot come to an agreement on child custody, then child custody is considered to be “contested” and they can seek the court’s help in determining a custody arrangement for their family.  Involving the court should be a last resort as a contested custody litigation can be very long and expensive, however, for some it is truly the only option.  Having an experienced and compassionate attorney by your side can make a contested child custody litigation much more manageable.

Before parents may discuss their custody concerns with a judge in court, they must both go to and actively participate in mandatory mediation.  Most counties in California provide a mediation service free of charge as part of a Family Court Services program, but parents may also hire their own private mediator.

What happens in child custody mediation?

Mediation can help parents resolve a child custody dispute where it seemed impossible for them to do so on their own, or, where they need assistance coming up with creative compromises.  Through guided discussion and open and honest communication the mediator helps to create a solution that emphasizes the child’s best interests.  The mediator is a trained, neutral third party; this neutrality can help parents focus on the issue(s) at hand.

Parents do not need to solve all custody issues during their first mediation, session, and, the mediator may recommend that the parties return for a graduated plan in the future.  If mediation is successful, the mediator will draft an agreement and submit it to the court for it to be reviewed by the judge and entered as a court order.

What happens if mediation did not resolve the child custody dispute?

If a child custody agreement could not be reached in mediation, then the court determines custody.  A hearing is scheduled for all parties to participate in the discussion on child custody.  Prior to the hearing, the mediator will provide the court with a report and recommendation based on what occurred during mediation.  The court will then evaluate the evidence presented by the parties or their respective attorneys and issue a child custody order that is in the child’s best interests and provides contact between the child and both parents.

The “best interest of the child factors” are listed in the first article of this series — Child Custody (Part 1): Custody Arrangements, which is available here.