Family Code section 3183, which governs custody mediators who are required by Family Code section
3160 to be offered by all California Superior Courts, has been revised
effective 1/1/11 to mandate that any recommendations be "first provided
[to] the parties and their attorneys, including counsel for any minor
children, ... in writing in advance of the hearing." The court is
required to confirm that this has occurred before commencing with a custody
for visitation hearing. It also changes and presumably unifies what courts
and litigants call these mediators, as quoted below.
Old section 3183 relied solely on local court rules to determine when
and to whom the recommendation would be delivered, and new 3183 retains
the same language. This is the new portion of the statute:
"... if the mediator has first provided the parties and their attorneys,
including counsel for any minor children, with the recommendations in
writing in advance of the hearing. The court shall make an inquiry at
the hearing as to whether the parties and their attorneys have received
the recommendations in writing. If the mediator is authorized to submit
a recommendation to the court pursuant to this subdivision, the mediation
and recommendation process shall be referred to as 'child custody
recommending counseling' and the mediator shall be referred to as
a 'child custody recommending counselor.' Mediators who make those
recommendations are considered mediators for purposes of Chapter 11 (commencing
with Section 3160), and shall be subject to all requirements for mediators
for all purposes under this code and the California Rules of Court. On
and after January 1, 2012, all court communications and information regarding
the child custody recommending counseling process shall reflect the change
in the name of the process and the name of the providers."
While this creates uniformity among all California Family Courts in requiring
the parties and their lawyers receive the report "in advance"
of the hearing, it begs the question of "when." The day of?
The day before? Ten days prior? Evidently at the moment this is still
left to local rule or a judge by judge policy since the question is left
to the discretion of the judge.
Many smaller courts are forced to rely on outside counselors to provide
mediation services. This is true in Blythe, for instance, and I believe
in Joshua Tree. Larger courts have in-house teams of salaried mediators.
I imagine the statute is written to bring the courts with small budgets
in line with state-wide practices of giving advance notice of recommendations,
and to call all of these workers by the same title.