Saturday, October 25, 2014

Child Custody Recommending Counseling, Family Court Services, Confidential Mediation, and Evaluation

Definition and Purpose of Child Custody Recommending Counseling

Definition

Family Code section 3170 - external link requires Child Custody Recommending Counseling take place whenever issues of custody or visitation are in dispute. This applies whenever a party to the case wants to obtain or change a custody or visitation order, and the other party does not agree to the change.

Child Custody Recommending Counseling is a form of negotiation between people with the help of a professional Child Custody Recommending Counselor who is a mental health professional. The Child Custody Recommending Counselor will assist the parties in reaching an agreement regarding custody, visitation and parenting issues for their children. If parties do not reach agreements in all areas of the parenting plan, the Child Custody Recommending Counselor will make recommendations to the court on the items still in dispute.

Child Custody Recommending Counseling may include, but is not limited to, interviews with the parents, children, other parties who may be legally joined to the case, and other individuals and organizations who may have information about the situation.

Purpose

The purpose of Child Custody Recommending Counseling is as follows:

  • To reduce acrimony that may exist between the parties
  • To develop an agreement assuring the child close and continuing contact with both parents that is in the best interest of the child and is consistent with other Family Code sections
  • To effect a settlement of the issue of visitation rights of all parties that is in the best interest of the child

Obtaining Child Custody Recommending Counseling Services

There are various ways to obtain Child Custody Recommending Counseling to assist you in resolving your dispute:

Family Court Services

The Office of Family Court Services is located in Room 104 of the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse at 3341 Power Inn Road, Sacramento, CA 95826.

The Office of Family Court Services performs Child Custody Recommending Counseling and Confidential Mediation. It also provides assessments for under-age marriage permissions, and emancipation evaluations upon court referral.

Family Court Services provides Child Custody Recommending Counseling free of charge to the parties. To receive Child Custody Recommending Counseling from Family Court Services, parties must have an established Family Law case in Sacramento County. Child Custody Recommending Counseling is made available either by filing for a court hearing or by a court order.

If a Domestic Violence Restraining Order is in place, or if a party declares under penalty of perjury that there is a history of domestic violence by the other party, the parties are entitled to separate Child Custody Recommending Counseling sessions. Parties are advised to inform the front counter staff of the restraining orders or domestic violence prior to the setting of the Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointments.

When does Child Custody Recommending Counseling occur?

Generally, Child Custody Recommending Counseling occurs approximately two weeks before the scheduled court hearing on disputed custody and visitation issues.

Who conducts the Child Custody Recommending Counseling?

The court employs experienced Family Court Counselors who have Master's Degrees and specialized training in areas pertaining to children and families. These areas include, but are not limited to, conflict resolution, parenting techniques, children's developmental stages, domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse and neglect.

Important Things to Know Before Child Custody Recommending Counseling

Setting appointments

When you appear at Family Court Services, you will be given a day and time to meet with the next available Child Custody Recommending Counselor. If this is your first visit to Family Court Services, or if you have not been to Child Custody Recommending Counseling in the past year, you will also be given instructions to complete the Parent Orientation program.

Parent Orientation

Parent Orientation is a program designed to teach parents about the process of child Custody Recommending Counseling and other important information needed prior to coming to the Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment.

Both parties should complete the orientation program prior to participation in Child Custody Recommending Counseling.

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You may also participate in the Family Court Services Orientation Program held at the office of Family Court Services in person. It takes about one hour to complete and you will have opportunities to ask questions.

If you and the other party both attend the Family Court Services Orientation Program and reach an agreement, a Child Custody Recommending Counselor can help you prepare the agreement in writing and cancel your Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment. To attend the Family Court Services Orientation Program in person (children should not attend), please contact the office of Family Court Services directly. There is no fee for this class.

Confidentiality

Child Custody Recommending Counseling is confidential. All communication involving the Child Custody Recommending Counselor must be kept confidential between the Recommending Counselor, you, and the other party to the case.

Family Court Services or the Recommending Counselor will not disclose information about your Child Custody Recommending Counseling to anyone other than the court and the parties to the case and their attorneys of record. However, the Recommending Counselor will disclose information about your case if:

  • The Recommending Counselor suspects that a child has been abused or neglected and a report must be made to Child Protective Services or a law enforcement agency.
  • The Recommending Counselor thinks that one of the people involved in the case may hurt himself or herself or someone else. The Recommending Counselor may contact a law enforcement agency and warn a threatened person.

How can I submit information to the Child Custody Recommending Counselor?

You should submit your completed Family Court Services Parenting Plan Questionnaire before or on the day of your Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment.

No other information should be submitted to Family Court Services/Child Custody Recommending Counselor unless the other party and any other individuals legally joined to the case were given (or served) copies of the information by a third party.

The following policies apply to all information (other than the Family Court Services Parenting Plan Questionnaire) submitted to Family Court Services/Child Custody Recommending Counselor:

  • No more than ten (10) pages of written documentation may be submitted to Family Court Services.
  • A Proof of Service form (FL/E-ME-803) signed by a third party (age 18 or older) listing each document must be attached.
  • The third party (age 18 or older) must either hand deliver copies of the documents to the other party and his/her attorney at least five calendar days before the scheduled appointment or mail copies of the documents to the other party and his/her attorney at least ten calendar days before the scheduled appointment.

Can I talk to the Child Custody Recommending Counselor before or after the Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment?

No discussion with the Child Custody Recommending Counselor without the other party's presence or knowledge is allowed, including by attorneys for either party, at any time before or after the Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment.

What if I miss my Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment?

Because of the short time frame between the Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment and the court hearing, another appointment cannot be scheduled. If the other party attends as scheduled, the Child Custody Recommending Counseling will go forward without your input. If time allows, the Child Custody Recommending Counselor may attempt to reach you by telephone.

If both parties fail to attend Child Custody Recommending Counseling, the appointment will be dropped and the court notified of your failure to attend. If this occurs, it is important that you still appear at the court hearing on the date scheduled. However, both parties should be prepared to provide an explanation to the judge why they were unable to attend Child Custody Recommending Counseling.

Do children attend Child Custody Recommending Counseling?

Yes. Bring all children ages 5 years and older who are directly involved in the case to the Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment. Although it is up to the discretion of the individual Child Custody Recommending Counselor as to whether or not they need to be interviewed, you are still required to bring them to the appointment.

Are both parties interviewed together?

Yes. Except for certain situations, such as domestic violence (described below), Child Custody Recommending Counselors interview both parties together.

Telephone Child Custody Recommending Counseling may occur when either party resides out-of-state or will suffer an extreme hardship by traveling to Family Court Services for Child Custody Recommending Counseling, by court order, or upon a showing of good cause at the discretion of Family Court Services. The request for telephone Child Custody Recommending Counseling should be made in advance of the Child Custody Recommending Counseling. Both parties will be heard at the same time.

What happens in cases where there are allegations of domestic violence or there is a domestic violence restraining order in place?

If there is a Restraining Order in effect, the victim may have a support person present during the Child Custody Recommending Counseling appointment.

However, the support person cannot participate in, and is required to maintain confidentiality of, the Child Custody Recommending Counseling session.

A Child Custody Recommending Counselor may exclude a support person from a session if:

  • The support person attempts to participate in the session.
  • The support person acts as an advocate for the victim in a session.
  • The support person's presence or actions disrupt the session.

Additionally, if the party who is protected from the other party by a Restraining Order, or who declares under penalty of perjury that there is a history of domestic violence by the other party, requests to be seen separately, each parent will be interviewed separately.

Important Things to Know After Child Custody Recommending Counseling

What if we can't reach an agreement during Child Custody Recommending Counseling?

In most cases, parties can successfully resolve and agree on custody and parenting time issues. However, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the Child Custody Recommending Counselor will prepare a written recommendation to the court on the issues that the parties have been unable to agree on.

In some cases, the Child Custody Recommending Counselor may recommend a temporary custody and/or parenting plan and also recommend that the court order a custody evaluation before making permanent orders.

What if I don't agree with the Child Custody Recommending Counselor's recommendations?

If you received Child Custody Recommending Counseling upon direct referral from the court, or as a result of you or the other party filing a Request for Order, you already have a scheduled hearing. If you do not agree with the Child Custody Recommending Counselor's recommendations, you may state your position to the judge during your court hearing. Be prepared to give specific information to the judge as to why you disagree with any of the Child Custody Recommending Counselor's recommendations.

What if we reach a full agreement during Child Custody Recommending Counseling?

If you were able to reach an agreement with the other party on all custody and visitation issues, the Child Custody Recommending Counselor will prepare a written agreement for each of you to sign. If neither of you are represented by an attorney, Family Court Services will forward the agreement to the court for approval. Once approved, it will become an official court order.

However, if an attorney represents one or both parties, you will not be asked to sign the agreement. Instead you will be directed to present it to the attorney for review and submission to the court.

Do we still go to court if we reach an agreement?

If custody and visitation are the only issues in dispute, then Family Court Services will notify the court of your agreement and the court hearing will be dropped. However, if there are other issues that the court has been asked to act on, you must still appear on your scheduled court date.

Child Custody Recommending Counseling report

At the conclusion of your Child Custody Recommending Counseling session, the Child Custody Recommending Counselor will identify in writing those issues on which you reached an agreement as well as those issues on which you were unable to reach agreement. This is known as the Child Custody Recommending Counseling Report.

The Child Custody Recommending Counselor will make a written recommendation to the court on any issues that have not been resolved during Child Custody Recommending Counseling. A copy of this report will be mailed to you, or your attorney, if you are represented.

Are Child Custody Recommending Counseling reports confidential?

Yes. Child Custody Recommending Counseling reports are confidential and are not allowed to be copied or distributed to anyone other than the court, an attorney of record, or the named parties to the proceeding, with the following exception:

In certain instances the court allows the exchange of information to other agencies in the justice system. Specific information can be obtained from Family Court Services.

Immediate Referrals from the Court

The court may refer parties to Family Court Services to provide expedited services. Generally, this occurs in cases where either parent presents an immediate danger or risk of harm to the children. Parties are usually seen in Family Court Services within a few days of the referral being made. A date to return to court is usually set to occur within 1 to 3 days following the referral. Immediate referrals may involve, but are not limited to, the following situations:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse or neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Allegations of flight risk or abduction

Confidential Mediation

Confidential Mediation is a process similar to Child Custody Recommending Counseling in that a professional assists the parties in reaching an agreement regarding custody, visitation and parenting issues for their children. However, in confidential mediation, no recommendation will be made and only the agreements reached by the parties will be reported.

If you have an existing Sacramento County Superior Court case, you may obtain free mediation services without filing a Request for Order. You can do this by filing a Petition for Confidential Mediation with Family Court Services. Upon the filing of a petition, an appointment will be scheduled for you to meet with a Child Custody Recommending Counselor.

If, during the mediation session, you reach a full agreement with the other party, Family Court Services will assist you in submitting that agreement to the court to become an order.

Other Important Information

Limits on Scheduling Additional Family Court Services Appointments

If a Family Court Services report has been issued within six months of the filing of a Request for Order regarding custody or visitation, no Family Court Services appointment will be set prior to the hearing date.

If a petition for confidential mediation is filed within six months of the date of the last Family Court Services report, no appointment will be scheduled.

Child Custody Recommending Counselor conflict of interest

Child Custody Recommending Counseling of cases that involve family law attorneys or their spouses, relatives, friends, or co-workers of the Child Custody Recommending Counselor may present a conflict of interest. A Child Custody Recommending Counselor will not handle a case in which they perceive that a serious conflict of interest exists. Therefore, in these cases, parties may be referred to private Child Custody Recommending Counselors.

Reports to Child Protective Services

Child Custody Recommending Counselors of the Sacramento Family Court Services are required to report to Child Protective Services (CPS) any situation that may pose an imminent danger or risk to the child(ren).

Complaints about Family Court Services

Family Court Services is committed to the delivery of quality Child Custody Recommending Counseling services. If you should have a complaint regarding services received, you may register your complaint orally or in writing to the Family Court Services Manager.

Family Court Services subpoena fees

A deposit of $275.00 is required any time a Family Court Services Child Custody Recommending Counselor is subpoenaed to attend a court hearing or proceeding as a witness. The party issuing the subpoena will be charged, at the rate of $82.00 per hour, for the actual time spent preparing for court testimony and/or deposition and the actual time spent testifying.

Testimony and depositions

The following rules apply to the subpoena of a Child Custody Recommending Counselor/evaluator:

  • If the Child Custody Recommending Counselor is to be examined in court, he/she must receive the subpoena 5 working days before the court hearing.
  • Due to time constraints, the party issuing the subpoena should contact Family Court Services at least 20 days before the court hearing to determine the Child Custody Recommending Counselor availability.
  • Depositions will take place at the Office of Family Court Services after 3:00 p.m. on a regular court day or other time during regular business hours mutually agreed upon.

Child Custody Evaluation

In some cases, where the court determines it is in the best interest of the child, the court may appoint a private (not court-connected) child custody evaluator to conduct a child custody evaluation. The custody evaluation will consider the health, safety, and welfare, and best interests of the children with regard to disputed custody and visitation issues. The evaluation may include interviews with parents, children, grandparents, or other parties who may be legally joined to the case. Other sources of information may also be contacted such as teachers, day care providers or medical providers. The evaluation could include reports written by mental health professionals, law enforcement agencies, drug and alcohol testing providers or reports from providers of anger management or parenting classes.

There are costs associated with a child custody evaluation. The Court will make orders as to which parent will be responsible for the costs or will divide the costs between the parents.