THIS IS A COPY OF THE INFORMATION THE FAMILY COURT REFORMERS WILL BE DISTRIBUTING TO PARENTS ON THEIR WAY INTO FAMILY COURT. Please call (530) 559-0826 if you are willing to help us distribute this important information to family court clients.
Dear Family Law Client,
Going to family court is a highly stressful experience for most people. I hope this flier will help make things a little easier for you. I was a mediator with Nevada County Family Court from 2006 through 2010. I became increasingly troubled with the ways family law cases were being handled, and I tried to correct these problems internally. My superiors retaliated against me for implying that anything was wrong with their methods. I was fired from my job in December of 2010. I am no longer able to continue my internal reform efforts, but I still care about what happens to families in the court. I am not alone. Other concerned litigants and professionals have helped me create our non-profit group, the Family Court Reformers. This free handout contains five key concepts that we hope every family law client will remember:
1) Make sure your mediator is familiar with the history of your case, and that serious underlying issues are addressed. Mediators are supposed to review your legal file before meeting with you, but this does not always occur. If your case involves a serious issue (such as substance abuse, domestic violence, untreated mental illness, or child abuse or neglect), make sure your mediator knows about it. It is important to remind the mediator of the history of the problem. For example, if you believe the other parent is abusing alcohol, make sure the mediator knows about any history of DUIs, lost jobs, blackouts, or other signs of addiction. If you believe your children may be endangered by the other parent’s behavior, insist on an assessment of the problem. Do not agree to allow your children to have large chunks of unsupervised time with the other parent until you are sure they will be safe. It is better to present your evidence to the court than to sign an agreement that leaves you feeling queasy.
2) Do not allow the mediators or the court to pressure you to make an agreement that you don’t really want to make. Sign an agreement only if you believe it will serve your children well. Stand up for what you think is best for your children, even if the mediator seems to disagree. You should not assume that the mediator knows more about what your children need than you do. Remember that you have the right to discontinue mediation at any time. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, simply say “I would rather address this in court.” The family court judge, the Honorable B. Scott Thomsen, is a certified family law specialist. We think you’ll be in good hands in his courtroom.
3) If you have been subjected to domestic violence (DV), you do not have to mediate in the same room with the other parent. You do not have to have proof of domestic violence (DV), such as a police report, to qualify for separate mediation sessions. If you are not offered separate mediation, you can request it. You are also entitled to have a support person of your choosing accompany you into mediation. Asking for separate mediation sessions or a support person is not a sign of weakness. It is important that you feel as calm and comfortable as possible during your mediation appointment. Other suggestions for domestic violence victims are as follows:
- Please consider calling DVSAC at 272-2046. DVSAC has a wide range of free services available, including trained support people who can accompany you to court and mediation.
- Review California Rules of Court, Rule 5.215 and Family Code Section 3044 before you go to mediation or court. All you need to do is Google these two sections to learn more about how family court is supposed to manage DV issues.
4) If your mediator makes a recommendation to the court that you do not like, tell the judge why you do not agree. Here is an example: at the last court date, Rob was ordered to bring in a note from his doctor regarding his mental status. Rob did not comply with this order. His ex-wife, Martha, believes Rob is still unstable and not taking his antipsychotic medication as prescribed. If the mediator in this situation recommended a 50/50 custody arrangement anyway, Martha should object. The judge always gives parents an opportunity to be heard before any decisions are finalized. Martha could ask the judge for an opportunity to ask the mediator, under oath, a few questions about her recommendations. Martha’s questions for the mediator could include:
a. “Was our file reviewed?” Did you take Rob’s history of psychiatric hospitalizations and suicide attempts into consideration?
b. “Did you contact Rob’s doctor directly?” What was the doctor’s input regarding Rob’s present level of functioning?
c. “Do you have any concerns about the children’s safety while they are in their father’s care?” Did you interview the children to obtain their input? Did you speak with the children’s therapist?
d. “What is your assessment of Rob’s prognosis, if he does not seek treatment? Do you believe Rob’s motivation to address his mental health problems will be diminished if he is awarded 50% custody at this time?”
5) If you do experience problems during your mediation appointment, please make Judge Thomsen aware of your concerns. The most effective way to alert the judge of any problems you experience in mediation is to incorporate your concerns into your next motion. Although the Family Court Services Department has a complaint form available, these complaints will not be shared with the family court judge. Currently, complaints about the mediators go directly back to the mediators for review. If you want Judge Thomsen to be aware of any problems you encountered during your mediation appointment, you will need to file a motion with the court. Your attorney or the Facilitator’s Office can help guide you through this process.
Addressing complaints in this way will increase the mediators’ accountability for the quality of their work. At present, there is almost no oversight of the mediation process. The Family Court Reformers are campaigning for greater accountability of mediation departments locally and throughout the state. We are currently cataloging client complaints for future use. If you would like to send a copy of your motion/ complaint to the Family Court Reformers, please email us or send a copy to Emily Gallup at 565 Brunswick #10, Grass Valley, CA 95945.
We hope that this information has been helpful to you. If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact us at (530) 559-0826 or email@example.com
Emily Gallup and the Family Court Reformers