Frequently Asked Questions

       
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CHILD CUSTODY RECOMMENDING COUNSELING

(formerly “MEDIATION”) and FAMILY COURT SERVICES


What is Child Custody Recommending Counseling?

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If parents cannot agree on all of their child custody issues, before they can meet with a judge they will be required to get help in working out their parenting plan. Child custody recommending counseling is a form of conflict resolution during which parents meet with a neutral third person, the child custody recommending counselor, and attempt to resolve their custody and visitation disputes about their children.

  • The child custody recommending counselor provides a safe place for each person to talk and be heard.
  • The child custody recommending counselor may also provide information about the effects of parental separation on children, how to share responsibilities for the children effectively in the future and the needs of children at different ages.


How long does child custody recommending counseling take?

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Child custody recommending counseling generally lasts 1½ to 2 hours but can run as long as 3 hours, particularly if parents are working toward an agreement regarding custody and visitation.


How are orientation and child custody recommending counseling appointments set?

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When one of the parents files a motion that asks the court to decide custody or visitation issues, that parent is instructed to contact the court's Family Court Services to set up an orientation appointment.  Then, a notice is placed on the court papers that are to be served to the responding party that instructs him or her to call Family Court Services to schedule orientation and a child custody recommending counseling appointment.

  • The child custody recommending counseling appointment will not be set until the responding party contacts Family Court Services.
  • Separate child custody recommending counseling appointments or video conferencing is sometimes utilized when there is a known or alleged history of domestic violence.


What happens if child custody recommending counseling is scheduled after the parents’ hearing date?

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Limited staffing resources sometimes means child custody recommending counseling can only be scheduled on a date later than your scheduled custody/visitation hearing.  In this case, it is best to ask the judge to postpone or "continue" your hearing until two or three weeks after your child custody recommending counseling appointment.

  • If both parents agree to the delay -- and there is no current restraining order in place -- they can use the local court form FamLaw-230 to ask for the hearing to be postponed.  To get a copy of this form, click here
  • If a delay has NOT been granted by the judge, the parents should go to their original scheduled hearing and ask the judge to "continue" the hearing until after their child custody recommending counseling appointment.

If the judge feels the parents should be seen sooner than scheduled, the judge will contact Family Court Services directly.


What is Orientation?

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Orientation is a class parents must complete before their child custody recommending counseling session.  Orientation explains the court process and what happens when the clients go through child custody recommending counseling. Two videos are usually shown, then a child custody recommending counselor answers any questions not addressed in the videos.  A certificate of attendance is given at the conclusion of the orientation.

  • In Contra Costa County, the orientation classes are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays (English) and every other Friday (Spanish) afternoons in the Family Law Building conference room 201 from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Parents attend orientation on separate days.
  • Parents must complete the class once every three years, if they are returning to child custody recommending counseling.


What happens if one party doesn’t show up for orientation, child custody recommending counseling, or court?

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In Contra Costa County, attendance at orientation is required by local court rule. This is to try to ensure that both parents have the same information about child custody recommending counseling, court processes and children’s needs with regard to the parents’ separation.  If one of the parents does not show up for orientation, the court may:

  • impose financial sanctions against a party who did not attend and 
  • consider such a failure to cooperate with the court processes when making orders regarding the children’s care.

Participation in child custody recommending counseling is required by state law for all parties scheduled for court hearings addressing disputed custody or visitation.  If one parent does not attend child custody recommending counseling, that parent’s failure to attend will be reported to the court.  Again, the court may:

  • impose financial sanctions against a party who did not attend and 
  • consider such a failure to cooperate with the court processes when making orders regarding the children’s care.

NOTE:  In addition, if you do not appear for your scheduled child custody recommending counseling appointment, Family Court Services will charge you $100 for your failure to appear. If an emergency is going to prevent you from arriving on time to your child custody recommending counseling appointment, immediately call Family Court Services at (925) 957-7950.

Both parents are required to attend every scheduled court hearing.

  • If the petitioning party does not attend a scheduled court hearing, the matter may be dropped.
  • If the responding party does not attend a scheduled court hearing, a default judgment may be entered against that party, and the other party’s requests may be granted.


Does the child custody recommending counselor appear at the court hearing?

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Normally, the child custody recommending counselor does not appear at court hearings.  However, if you wish to compel the appearance of a Family Court Services child custody recommending counselor as a witness at a custody/visitation trial, the you must:

  • notify Family Ccourt Services in writing no less than 5 court days prior to the hearing date and send
  • a non-refundable check in the amount of $150 for the child custody recommending counselor’s appearance.


Parents were just in court a few months ago. Do they have to go back to child custody recommending counseling?

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Every disputed motion filed regarding custody and or visitation triggers a mandated child custody recommending counseling, regardless of date of the most recent child custody recommending counseling.


Can we return to Family Court Services for further child custody recommending counseling?

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A child custody recommending counseling appointment can be scheduled at Family Court Services only:

  1. when a hearing is pending before the court regarding the care of minor children (and no child custody recommending counseling has occurred regarding the matter before the court);
  2. when there is a court order in effect which permits or directs the parties to return to Family Court Services for further child custody recommending counseling; or
  3. when the court otherwise requests such an appointment.


Should I bring my kids to child custody recommending counseling?

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No. Child custody recommending counseling is for the parents only.   If parents cannot reach an agreement during child custody recommending counseling, the child custody recommending counselor may discuss the possibility of interviewing the children, or observing the parents with them.


How much importance is given by the child custody recommending counselor/court to what the children say they want?

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It is very difficult, painful, and often psychologically damaging for children to be asked or encouraged to choose between their conflicting parents. If a child chooses to express a preference regarding the parental care arrangement, that opinion is considered as one factor among all of the complex factors under consideration by the child custody recommending counselor/court. The weight that this preference is given depends upon the age and maturity of the child and the child’s ability to perceive what is in her/his best interests. Only when children turn eighteen (or are emancipated) are they permitted by law to choose where they live and with whom they spend time.


Can I give the child custody recommending counselor written information that supports my point of view?

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Child custody recommending counseling needs to be a fair and open process. Written information (including statements, letters, faxes, e mails, and other documents) may be provided to the child custody recommending counselor, as long as a copy of such information has been provided well in advance to the other party and her/his attorney. Note that due to time constraints, however, it is unlikely that the child custody recommending counselor will be able to read long documents before or during the child custody recommending counseling session.


What if there is an agreement/court order and one parent doesn’t follow it?

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If one parent violates a court order, the other parent may choose to file an appropriate motion asking the court to:

  • require the violating party’s compliance,
  • modify the order appropriately, or
  • impose sanctions against the offending party.

If there is a serious violation of a court order you may choose to seek the advice of an attorney.   Or, contact the district attorney in your county.  Look for the Child Abduction or Recovery Unit.

In an urgent situation or when you want independent documentation of a violation, you may choose to contact the local police authority.

TIP:  Keep accurate records of all visitation violations. Keep a journal or mark up a calendar, with the dates and times that the other parent did not follow the order and didn’t show up, showed up late, or other problems.

NOTE:  Child custody recommending counselors do not enforce court orders.  However, in a Status Report to the court after child custody recommending counseling, the child custody recommending counselor may report apparent violations of those orders.


What if a parent arrives late or doesn’t come at scheduled times to care for the children?

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Parents’ punctuality is very important to children following a separation. If a parent frequently arrives late without notice or does not show up at all, children can feel anxious and insecure. Also, the resulting parental conflict could harm the children.

Concerns about punctuality should be addressed in child custody recommending counseling, where guidelines may be agreed upon or recommended regarding proper advance notice of lateness or cancellation, how long a parent should wait for a non arriving parent, etc.


What if a parent lives far away or is in prison?

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Child custody recommending counseling for a parent who lives out of state or is in prison is still mandatory but may be done by telephone. The person who is away should contact Family Court Services to make arrangements in advance. That person (who lives for away or is in prison) has to make the phone call for the child custody recommending counseling and will be billed the $100 no-show fee if they fail to call at their scheduled time.


What if a child resists spending time with a parent?

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It is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy, except where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child. In making a determination of the best interest of the child, the court shall, among any other factors it finds relevant, consider all of the following:

  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child
  • A history of child abuse or neglect by one parent
  • The nature and amount of contact with both parents
  • Drug or alcohol abuse or illegal use

If a child expresses a desire not to spend scheduled time with a parent, both parents should attempt to discover the reasons for the objection. If a child consistently objects to spending scheduled time with a parent, psychotherapeutic counseling for the child and/or one or both parents may be appropriate.

If a judge learned that a child would rather live with one parent than the other, the judge might consider:

  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child
  • What is the reason the child wants to live with that parent?
  • What is the level of stability and reliability of the parent the child wants to live with?
  • What is the level of the child’s social maturity and emotional and intellectual development?
  • Has the child been pressured or manipulated into stating a preference?


What is Supervised Visitation?

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Sometimes, based on issues of protection and safety, a judge will decide that in order for a child to have contact with a parent, a neutral third person must be present during any visitation. This type of third-person visitation arrangement is often called “supervised visitation”. Click here for more information about supervised visitation and visit supervisors 


What is the Non-Professional Supervisor Class?

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The Non-Professional Supervisor is a resource for parents who cannot afford court ordered professional supervision while visiting their children. Many people can qualify to be a supervisor. Often people will choose relatives, friends, or community volunteers who are not directly related to the case and are not advocates for either parent. Individuals who agree to supervise must make a commitment to follow mandated guidelines and local requirements. The parents and supervisors attend a two hour orientation and receive a workbook, including visit documentation forms. A certificate of attendance is given at the conclusion of the class. For more information, contact Family Court Services between 8:00am and 1:00pm at 925-957-7950.


How do I modify a Custody or Visitation Order?

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If something important has changed in your child’s life and you think that you need to change a custody and visitation order, you can file a motion to modify (change) your custody and visitation order. You can download the Modification – Custody and Visitation packet; which contains forms and instructions for modifying a custody and visitation order.


What is a Domestic Violence Restraining Order?

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A DV restraining order is a court order that can protect a person from abuse. Abuse includes, physical harm (hitting, kicking, pulling hair, etc.) and abuse such as stalking, following, sexually assaulting or threatening to do any of those things.

You can ask for a restraining order if you have been a victim of abuse and you have a close relationship with the person. A close relationship means that you are married or used to be married; date or used to date; live together or used to live together; are in a domestic partnership or used to be in a domestic partnership; had a child together; or had a family relationship (brother, sister, parent, child, grandparent.)

  • General information about how to get a DV restraining order can be found on the court's Virtual Self Help Law Center website.  This has step-by-step instructions, free forms, videos in English, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese, and much more.  To go to this website, click here. 
  • Workshops and clincs about DV restraining orders will give you more specific help with your case.  For a list with the workshops' schedules, click here
  • STAND! For Families Free of Violence offers a complete spectrum of prevention, intervention and treatment programs for people in Contra Costa County.  To learn more about their services, click here
  • For a list of other Domestic Violence resources, click here

The Contra Costa County Superior Court can help you with Domestic Violence restraining orders in Martinez and Pittsburg. There is also a DV clinic in Richmond.

  • In Martinez, the Restraining Order Window is in the lobby of the Family Law Center located at 751 Pine Street, Martinez. The Restraining Order Window is open from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except court holidays.
  • In Pittsburg, the Self-Help Center is in the Arnason Justice Center in Pittsburg located at 1000 Center Drive, Pittsburg, CA. Help is available from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except court holidays.
  • In Richmond, there are DV clinics.  For a list with the clinics' locations and schedules, click here

There is no charge for the Domestic Violence restraining order forms packets and there is no court filing fee to apply for a restraining order.

If you have minor children with the other party, you can ask the court for custody, visitation and child support orders. If you are married to the other party, you can ask for a spousal support order.


How do I get a Child Support Order?

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You can get lots of general information about support orders on the court's Virtual Self Help Law Center website.  This has step-by-step instructions, free forms, videos and much more.  To go to this website, click here

There are several ways to get a child support order.

  1. You can open a case with the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) 
  2. If you and the other parent are married, you can open a court case for divorce or legal separation and there will be a child support order in your Judgment.
  3. If you and the other parent are not married, you would need to open a Paternity case and there will be a child support order in your judgment.
  4. If you need a child support order before your judgment is entered, you can file a motion with the court to ask for child support orders. You can learn how to file a motion in several ways:
  • If you have an open court case in Contra Costa County and you have not yet served the Summons and Petition on the Respondent, download the Request for Order and Financial packets and follow the instructions in the packets to prepare, file, and serve a motion for child support.  If you have an open case in Contra Costa County and you have served the Respondent, download the Request for Order and Financial packets and follow the instructions in the packets to prepare, file, and serve a motion for child support.

NOTE:  You can ask the Court for an order that the parties share the cost of day care and uninsured medical expenses.  You can also ask the Court to order the parties to provide health insurance for the child, if health insurance is available at a reasonable cost through an employer.

 


 

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