Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: Preparing for Mediation
This is the sixth and final article in a series about DVROs. Begin the series here.
This article pertains to mediation at Sacramento’s Family Court. Check your local jurisdiction for specific instructions in your family courthouse.
What Is Mediation?
Child Custody Recommending Counseling, or mediation, is required when child custody or visitation issues are in dispute. Almost all cases of child custody where the parties cannot agree are sent to mediation.
If you have minor children in common with the respondent of your DVRO (your abuser), you will most likely be sent to child custody mediation. Even if you are granted a restraining order, the court will not necessarily take away the other parent’s rights regarding his or her child.
If you have included your children as “Protected Persons” on your DVRO request, the court has to decide whether the children will be in danger if they are in the custody or presence of the respondent (the other parent).
The court counselor (or mediator) is there to help you and the other parent come to an agreement about how to share responsibility for your children.
It’s important to think carefully about what you want and where you are willing to compromise. Domestic violence that has occurred between you and your abuser will not be the subject of mediation or be taken much into account for custody and visitation unless it included a danger of harm to the children. The mediator’s sole concern is what is in the best interests of your child(ren).
If you have a DVRO, you can meet separately from the other parent. Often, you meet on the same day, but at different times or in different rooms. You can ask for this service when you make your mediation appointment. You can also wait in a separate room, so you don’t have to be with your abuser while you wait for your appointment.
When a DVRO is in place, chances are you don’t want your abuser to have custody, shared custody, or visitation. However, there must be compelling evidence to prevent a parent from seeing his or her child.
If you have evidence of danger to your children from their other parent, you may file it with the court and serve the other parent, five days before your mediation appointment. File your proof of service and bring it a copy of the evidence and the proof of service with you to mediation. Evidence may include documented instances of child abuse or other past violent crimes, arrest records, or anything you think is a compelling reason to limit access of the other parent to your children. Do not assume the mediator will read the contents of your DVRO. File and serve anything you want the mediator to see, and bring it with you.
Preparing for Mediation
In Sacramento, there are some basic steps you must take to be prepared for child custody mediation.
When your mediation hearing is scheduled, you will be given a Parenting Plan Questionnaire to complete. It’s important to take the time to complete this information before your mediation date. It will ask you to specifically outline a parenting plan for your child(ren).
You must decide how to divide both physical and legal custody. Physical custody determines where the child lives. Legal custody determines who makes decisions on behalf of the child, including school, medical, and other legal matters.
The Parenting Plan Questionnaire also requires you to fill in a calendar with your requested division of custody/visitation, and answer several questions about what is important to you as a parent.
The mediator then compares your parenting plan to the other parent’s plan, and tries to find common ground and compromise so you can present a united plan to the judge. If you cannot come to agreement with the other parent, the mediator makes his/her own recommendation to the judge, based on your and the other parent’s interviews in mediation. The judge makes the final orders after reading the mediator’s report.
In Sacramento, you are also required to complete the online Orientation program at the Families Change website. Register for this course online, and allow several hours to complete all the sections. You can print your confirmation that you completed the course and take it to your mediator.
Your Child’s Voice
If your child is over the age of five or six, the mediator will probably speak to them. Be sure your don’t try to lead your child into saying something in particular. Even saying, “You must tell the truth” can be construed as you coaching your child. Depending on his or her age, just explain to the child that the court wants to hear what they want. Reassure your children that you love them and they are safe.
How We Can Help
ACFP offers mediation preparation services to our clients. At your mediation preparation appointment, we can assist you with your Parenting Plan Questionnaire, answer questions about the online course, and help you prepare to speak with the mediator.
You may also request a support person from ACFP to accompany you to the courthouse on your mediation day. If your mediation appointment is scheduled with the other parent, your support person can accompany you into the appointment. If you have separate mediation, the advocate can wait for your outside.
For further assistance, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call for an appointment at (916) 728-5613