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.