|Family Court Services|
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FAMILY COURT SERVICES is staffed by court employees who are mental health professionals. They provide mediation services for separated or divorced parents involved in disputes over custody and visitation of children. The Santa Barbara County Superior Court must have jurisdiction, meaning that there must be an open Family Law case in Santa Barbara County before mediation can happen.
HOW MUCH DOES MEDIATION COST?
Mediation is free!
WHY DO WE NEED TO GO?
Mediation is required in California whenever a dispute regarding custody or visitation is presented to the court. Parents must go to mediation prior to going to court on custody and visitation issues.
WHAT IS MEDIATION?
Mediation is a process conducted by a trained, neutral mediator to help parents peacefully discuss and decide how they will share custody and visitation of their child(ren).
The mediation is completely confidential, and none of it can be used as evidence in court proceedings. If the parents reach an agreement regarding custody and visitation, the mediator will help the parents put it into writing to present to the judge or commissioner in charge of their family law case. This agreement, also called a parenting plan stipulation, becomes a court order after it is signed by the judge or commissioner. Once the stipulation is signed by the judge and filed with the court, it is legal and binding on both parents.
The mediator will not make recommendations to the court.
DO BOTH PARENTS NEED TO GO TO THE PEACE (PARENT EDUCATION AND CO-PARENTING EFFECTIVELY) PARENTING CLASS BEFORE WE CAN GO TO MEDIATION?
Yes. In Family Law cases where there will be custody and visitation orders for minor children, both parents are required to attend and complete the parent education program called PEACE in either Santa Maria or Santa Barbara.
Click here for the PEACE Handbook required for the class.
HOW DO I SET A MEDIATION APPOINTMENT?
Before setting a mediation appointment, you must first talk to and confirm with the other parent whether they will agree to participate in the mediation appointment. If there is an agreement to participate in mediation, talk to the other parent about what day of the week and time is preferred for the appointment. Appointments are available in the morning and early afternoon. Then call the Family Court Services Assistant as follows:
If you are unable to contact the other parent (e.g., you don’t have his or her telephone number or the other parent refuses to speak with you), then complete, serve and file the Notice of Mediation with Family Court Services (SC-4018) form and explain the difficulty you have had in contacting the other parent. Set a mediation appointment at least three (3) weeks into the future so that the other parent has sufficient time to arrange his or her schedule for attendance. See Santa Barbara County Superior Court Local Rule 1503 for more information on the scheduling of a Family Court Services mediation appointment.
HOW DO I CANCEL A MEDIATION APPOINTMENT?
If a parent is unable to attend a scheduled and noticed mediation appointment, the cancelling party must serve and file a Notice of Cancellation (Form # SC-4018). The form must state the following: The reason (good cause) for the cancellation, The efforts made to notify the other parent, and Information regarding mutually agreeable future dates for rescheduling purposes. The scheduling parent must notify the Family Court Services Assistant no less than seven (7) days before the scheduled mediation (“Notice of Cancellation period”) that the mediation must be rescheduled.
CAN I GET ANY HELP WITH THESE LEGAL FORMS?
Contact your Family Law Facilitator. See also this instruction sheet for further help: Scheduling and/or Cancelling a Mediation Appointment with Family Court Services.
HOW DOES MEDIATION WORK?
Both parents must attend mediation at the same time. One parent may attend by telephone if he or she is located out of the county. Please speak with the Family Court Services Assistant about this. Both parents must also have completed the PEACE parenting class before the mediation appointment. Children of the relationship who are 6 years or older must also come to the mediation. The mediator will meet with each child separately from the parents. The mediator will ask general questions to the children as part of the mediation process so as to better help the parents shape a plan that is in the best interest of their child(ren). After speaking with each person individually, the mediator will then call both parents in to the office to speak with them together.
WHAT IF I HAVE A PROTECTIVE ORDER OR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER AGAINST THE OTHER PARENT?
In cases with a history of domestic violence, you may ask for separate rooms. You do not need to be in the same room during mediation. You should also be aware of Family Code section 3044. This law says that if the judge finds domestic violence happened between you and the other parent or the children in the last 5 years, then the judge must follow special rules in deciding custody of the children. Generally speaking, the person who has committed domestic violence in the past 5 years against the other parent or the children will not be given custody. See this important information sheet: “Domestic Violence and Child Custody” and “Violencia en el hogar y la custodia de hijos menores.”
Although the Santa Barbara Superior Court in Santa Barbara now has a children’s waiting room to accommodate children from the age of 2 ½ to 12 years old, the room is only open part time and may not be available during the time of your scheduled mediation. You can call (805) 964-2347 find out whether the room will be open at the time you have your mediation. Otherwise, you must arrange to have a third person come with you so that the child(ren) are supervised during your confidential session. If you fail to arrange for supervision of the child(ren), your mediation session will be rescheduled. The Santa Maria Court location does not have a supervised waiting room for the children and parents must provide a third person to supervise the children.
WHAT IF I NEED AN INTERPRETER?
Spanish speaking mediators are available, but one might not be available for the time you prefer to hold your mediation. Let the Family Court Services Assistant know of your need at the time you set your appointment. You may be asked to bring an interpreter if a Spanish speaking mediator is not available for your appointment time. If you need an interpreter for any language other than Spanish, please contact the Family Court Service’s Assistant at least two weeks prior to the mediation appointment so that arrangements may be made.
A family member, boyfriend, girlfriend, or person involved with the case may not be used as an interpreter without the consent of the other parent, the attorneys (if any) and the mediator. A child can never be used as an interpreter for mediation. The interpreter’s role shall be strictly limited to translating the statements of the parties and the mediator. The interpreter shall not offer their impressions or give the parties advice during mediation.
AFTER THE INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS, WHERE DO THE CHILDREN GO DURING THE PARENTS’ MEDIATION SESSION?
You must arrange to have the child(ren) taken home or supervised by a third person while you are in the mediation session. If your children don’t have the appropriate supervision, then your mediation session will need to be rescheduled. In certain cases, you may take your children to the Children’s Waiting Room (see below).
ISN’T THERE A CHILDREN’S WAITING ROOM?
Yes, the Anacapa Division of the Santa Barbara Superior Court now has a Children’s Waiting Room. It is available on limited days to watch the children of parents who have court hearings or court business.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE CAN’T COME TO AN AGREEMENT IN MEDIATION?
If parents are unable to reach agreement in the mediation process, the mediator will write a Mediation Report to the judge or commissioner in charge of the case. It will state that the parents participated in mediation but could not reach an agreement. Because the Santa Barbara Superior Court has a confidential mediation program, the mediator will not make a recommendation regarding custody and/or visitation or share any information obtained in mediation with the judge or commissioner in charge of the case.
When the parents cannot reach an agreement in mediation, either parent can prepare the appropriate legal papers to schedule the case for a hearing in front of the assigned judge or commissioner. At the hearing the judicial officer will hear from both parents and then decide the best plan for custody and visitation. A parent must file and serve the correct paperwork to schedule a court hearing. You may get help with this process from the Family Law Facilitator. For information on the Family Law Facilitator, click here. Click for information on the “Custody and Visitation” classes offered by the Family Law Facilitator.
In some cases, if no agreement is reached in mediation and further investigation is required, the court may order a Family Custody Evaluation (what is commonly known as a “3111” evaluation based on Family Code section 3111). You can ask your mediator about this process and if it’s right for your case.
The COPE (Co-Parenting Essentials) Program is a 16 hour class that meets for 8 consecutive weeks. COPE is designed to help parents develop skills and attitudes to adjust to a high conflict or challenging co-parenting relationship. Through goal setting and writing activities, the curriculum will help parents identify and overcome barriers to happiness, effective parenting and conflict resolution. You will not be in the same group with your child’s other parent. Classes are scheduled according to the needs of enrollment. The next class will be scheduled when enough parents are enrolled.
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