Family Court Services: Recommending versus Non-Recommending Programs
Family courts choose the type of intervention they wish to use in assessing contested custody cases. The methods range from pure custody mediation to recommending custody counseling. There are pros and cons to both approaches. These services are generally free of charge and each court usually has a website where you can learn about their family court services program.
Once the mainstay of the family court, pure mediation only programs are in the minority these days due to a variety of financial and clinical issues. During a traditional mediation session the parents are given helpful alternatives to unresolved issues that may enable them to overcome their differences and reach an agreement. Your confidential mediator may require a meeting with the children (see child interviews in next chapter).
If the mediation is unsuccessful the issues are adjudicated by the hearing officer assigned to the case. The family court mediator does not provide information about your case to the court. The information discussed in the mediation session remains confidential. If the court requires more evidence, the family may be ordered to undergo an evaluation, which will result in a detailed report with recommendations for custody.
Custody evaluations are performed by clinicians who specialize in this area. The evaluations range in form and content. One version is short and relatively inexpensive, costing a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and a few weeks’ time to complete. Another approach includes in-depth evaluations which can include standard and projective psychological testing that runs thousands to tens of thousands of dollars and takes three to six months to complete.
Some mediation only courts use family court service staff to perform in-house evaluations. There is usually a fee, albeit lower than a private evaluation, and the report is much less comprehensive and will not include psychological testing. Evaluations usually involve extensive interviews with the parents, children, significant others and any other collateral contacts that may have information helpful to the evaluator.
Another avenue the court may take is appointing an attorney to represent the child. These attorneys, designated minor’s counsel, will act to protect the child’s best interest and provide nonclinical information which the judge will use in making her decision.
Despite the confidential nature of the pure or traditional mediation process, family court services staffs are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. Additionally, they may make a recommendation to the court as to the propriety of a custody evaluation or restraining order.