Frequently Asked Questions About Mediation
What is mediation and how long are mediation sessions?
Mediation is a confidential process. Mediators are highly trained neutrals who assist parties in creating plans that best serve the needs of their children. In family law cases, mediators assist parents in making their own plans for their children by keeping the focus on the children's needs, the safety of all involved and helping to establish better communication between the parents. These mediation sessions are generally two hours in length.
In juvenile dependency cases, mediators assist the parties in working out a plan that best supports the child's needs. Parents, social workers, all involved attorneys, and other participants invited by the Court or the parties, participate in the mediation. Orientation takes place at the time of the mediation session, which is generally 2 ½- to 3-hours long. At the end of the mediation session the parties report directly back to the Court and request that the Court make their agreement an order or set a date for a hearing if no agreement is reached. Please go to the Juvenile Dependency for more information on mediations in Juvenile cases.
What if I don't attend orientation?
Attendance at orientation is mandatory. It must be completed before your mediation date or the mediation cannot proceed. This is required by order of the Court. If you fail to attend orientation and/or mediation you can be fined by the Court for your failure to follow a court order. The Court also may make orders against your interests if you do not appear at the hearing.
How do I get an appointment with a mediator?
In most cases you will be automatically scheduled for mediation on the first day you are ordered to come to Court. If you have been to mediation in the past, you will generally be assigned to the same mediator.
What if I want to set up a mediation without having to go through the Court?
If you have not been to mediation in the last two years and both you and your child's other parent agree to return to mediation, you may fill out and sign a form called Stipulation for Voluntary Mediation. After both parents have signed the completed form, it should be brought to a window clerk in Room 402 or be faxed to the supervising mediator at (415) 551-4002. Once the completed form is received, a mediator will contact each party to schedule a Monday morning orientation and a mediation date. You should be sure to include contact information for yourself and your child's other parent so that the assigned mediator can contact you to set up the appointment.
Should I bring my child to mediation?
Children are not allowed in mediation or Court, unless specifically requested by the Court. Children should not be involved in the Court process. They should be shielded from the adult issues being discussed at Court and should be encouraged to participate in their normal activities; going to school, seeing their friends, and participating in fun activities.
What can I do to prepare myself for mediation?
Do whatever you can to separate your feelings about your child's well-being from what your child needs from that parent. Take into consideration the things discussed during orientation about what children need from their parents and others at different ages. Bring at least two different proposals about how your child can spend time with you and his or her other parent. Be prepared to listen to your child's other parent's ideas so that the two of you can have a discussion about what might work for everyone.
Make a list of any specific concerns about your child's other parent so that they can be addressed in putting together the plan for your child.
What if I need to contact my mediator but can't remember who it is or don't have their phone number?
You can call (415) 551-4007 for information about how to contact your mediator.
What if my mediator is no longer working at Family Court Services?
If you need assistance from a mediator and your mediator is no longer available you should call the manager.
What if I'm afraid of my child's other parent and we're going to mediation?
Anyone who has had a history of violence or intimidation with their child's other parent has the right to meet with the mediator without the other parent being present. You also have the right to bring a person with you who makes you feel more comfortable (a support person). The support person may sit with you in the mediation session but is not allowed to speak. The support person can be asked to leave if he or she causes a disruption or breaks the rules of the mediation session. In some situations, the mediator can meet with each parent on separate days or at different times of the day so that they are not both at the courthouse at the same time.
How will the mediator know that I'm afraid of the other parent?
When you go to orientation everyone will fill out a form that asks questions about any violence between you and your child's other parent. Your mediator will get this form before your mediation session and will know about your situation.
What is the domestic violence calendar?
Every Wednesday the Court schedules hearings for only those people who are requesting restraining orders. Parents who have children in common are seen first at 9 a.m. After the Court calls all of the cases, parents will immediately be escorted to separate orientations.
After orientation the mediator will meet first with the parent requesting the restraining order and then meet separately with the other parent. The parents are never in the same room except for when they are in Court. The mediator assists parents in making arrangements for their children to spend time with both parents in a way that is safe for everyone. The mediation discussion is focused on the children and does not address the restraining order itself.
As in any mediation, there is no pressure to agree. After mediation, both parents go back to Court so that the Court can make a decision about whether or not to grant the restraining order and to make parenting plan orders if the parents could not come up with their own plan.
Do I need an attorney?
This is a personal and, often, a financial decision. Many people represent themselves. The Court's ACCESS Center can help with paperwork and the Bar Association of San Francisco Lawyer Referral line can help make referrals for low cost attorneys (415) 989-1616.
Can my attorney come to mediation?
Yes, your attorney may participate in the mediation session. However, the mediator generally meets first with the lawyers and then spends most of the mediation session meeting with only the parents. Your lawyer may wait for you to finish your discussion so that you can discuss any questions you might have or you and your attorney can decide that you call him or her with questions as they come up during the mediation.
What is a Tier 2?
The Court may want more information before it makes final decisions about custody or visitation orders. The Court can order Family Court Services to get information from various sources and to write a report about the information obtained from these sources. A Tier 2 may include interviewing parents and/or children but generally involves talking with schools, therapists and other people involved in the child's life. Parents receive a copy of the Tier 2 report prior to the next Court hearing date.