What is it? Do I have to attend? What happens during it?
How should I prepare for it?
What is FCS Mediation:
Family Court Services (FCS) is a mandatory negotiation between the parties, with an experienced Mediator, regarding the parties’ minor children and an attempt for the parties to reach an agreement regarding custody and parenting issues before the scheduled court hearing. If the parties do not reach an agreement during the FCS session, the Mediator will submit a comprehensive written report to the court that includes, but is not limited to, a custody and visitation recommendation and the reasons for the recommendation.
The purpose of child custody recommending counseling is:
To help reduce the hostility that may exist between the parties;
To develop an agreement that assures the child(ren) has frequent and continuing contact with both parents and that assures the health, safety, and welfare of the child(ren), if in the child’s best interest, and
To resolve custody issues and rights to parenting time.
Child custody recommending counseling may include but is not limited to, interviews with the parents, the child(ren), other parties who may be legally joined to the case, and other individuals who may have information about the situation, such as Child Welfare Services (CWS) or school personnel. However, mediators are not required to interview anyone except the parties involved, unless there’s a court order that requests otherwise, so they may choose not to talk with the child(ren) regarding their wishes. You, as a parent, need to let the Mediator know if your child wishes to be heard.
When does FCS Occur:
Child custody recommending counseling occurs before the scheduled court hearing on matters with disputed custody and visitation issues. The court has experienced Family Court Mediators who have Master's Degrees and specialized training in areas related to children and families. These areas include conflict resolution, parenting techniques, children's developmental stages, domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse and neglect.
How to Prepare for your FCS Mediation:
Do whatever you can to separate your feelings about your child's other parent from what your child needs from that parent. Also, take into consideration what your children need from their parents and others at different ages. We suggest you bring at least one proposal regarding the parenting plan you wish to utilize. That can be the plan currently being practiced and/or the plan you wish to become a court order. The more proposals you can create, the better. You want to be seen as the parent who is proactive and can be somewhat flexible. You want to be seen as the parent who is capable of co-parenting.
Be prepared to listen and not interrupt your child's other parent's ideas so that the two of you can discuss what might work for everyone. Make a list of any specific concerns about your child's other parent you have so that they can be addressed when putting together the plan for your child with the Mediator. It is imperative that you remain civil during the process. Once the other parent has had a chance to speak, ask the Mediator for your chance to make any clarifications or to address anything that was misconstrued, etc.
Additionally, before your FCS session, participants are advised to complete the Family Court Services Child Custody Recommending Counseling Information Sheet (FCS-002) and return it to the Family Court Services Office before your meeting. You can also watch the Family Court Services Orientation Video for additional information. If you have an attorney, they may schedule a meeting with you for FCS preparations so you know what to expect and how to handle what can be an emotional experience.
What happens if we can’t agree on a plan:
In most cases, parties can successfully resolve and agree on custody and parenting time issues. However, if the parties cannot reach a full or even partial agreement, the Mediator will prepare a written recommendation to the court on the issues the parties have been unable to agree on. In some cases, especially where there is a great deal of hostility between parents or serious allegations such as abuse or neglect, the Mediator may recommend a temporary custody and/or parenting plan. Remember, the Mediator can only make recommendations. It is the Judge who will make the final decision.
What if I Can’t Attend or Miss My Meeting:
Because of the short time frame between the FCS appointment and the court hearing, another appointment cannot usually be rescheduled before Court. If one or both parties fail to attend the child custody counseling, the session will not occur, and the court will be notified of the parties failure to attend. If this occurs, it is important that you still appear at the court hearing on the date scheduled. However, the party who failed to attend should be prepared to explain to the Judge their reasoning. If you miss more than one (1) FCS Mediation session, the Judge may also order sanctions (AKA monetary fines) on the party who failed to show up because there is such a shortage of dates and times available, which then affects the Court’s calendar for future scheduled matters.
Do Both Me And The Other Parent Attend The Same Meeting?:
Yes. Family Court Mediators interview both parties together. The exception to this policy is if there has been an alleged history of domestic violence or when a protective order is in effect and one party has requested separate interviews. If you have a DVTRO or DVRO in place, you can request to have individual meetings with the Mediator.
What happens after the FCS Meeting:
After your FCS session, the Family Court Mediator will identify in writing those issues on which you reached an agreement and those issues on which you were unable to reach an agreement. This is known as the FCS Report. As previously mentioned, the Family Court Mediator will make a written recommendation to the court on any issues that have not been resolved during child custody recommending counseling. The parties (and their attorneys) will receive a copy of the recommendation in writing before the court hearing.
What happens if I disagree with the Mediator’s Recommendations or they Misstated Information:
Courts really do appreciate the work of FCS mediators, and oftentimes will adopt their recommendation, sometimes with slight modification, unless there are clear flaws in the recommendation. If the Mediator misstates information or you disagree with the recommendations within the report, you (or your attorney) can file a Supplemental Declaration with the Court stating the Errors and Assumptions within the FCS Report for the Court to consider.
When should I hire Wells-Gibson Family Law:
It depends. We, at Wells-Gibson Family Law, prep all of our clients for FCS. Here at our firm, some attorneys do an actual "role play", other attorneys have the clients write out their questions prior to the hearing, etc. It really all depends on what the client needs to feel safe and ready before their FCS date. Getting a good report is important and oftentimes helps the case succeed; however, we have been successful in disputing FCS reports and still getting our clients favorable outcomes, against the odds.
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