Mediation Do's and Don'ts

            As you approach your court date for mediation, you will want to know what will
happen in mediation, and what will NOT happen.

            1.  The court offers all adult people an opportunity to attend their orientation
program on mediation at 3:00 p.m. each Wednesday afternoon in Department Thirteen
(13) on the basement floor of the Modesto courthouse.  You enter off 11th Street,
through the double glass doors.  The program is led by a mediator, and takes about 1
1/2 hours.  Taking advantage of this informational program will save you time by
answering some of your questions.  You may take a friend, but no children, and you
do NOT have to appear at the same time as your spouse/ex spouse.  This program will
be MANDATORY upon the filing of any custody or visitation Order to Show Cause.  If it
has been 18 months or more since your first mediation, you MUST attend orientation
AGAIN before your court date.  This is strictly enforced by the court.

            2.  Only the parties will be allowed into mediation, absent unusual
circumstances, such as domestic violence.  No step-parents or "significant others"
will be allowed.  Children are not usually allowed in the first mediation meeting, called
"assessment."  Do NOT bring your kids to court unless instructed by the attorney.

            3.  If there is a history of domestic violence, you may make a request of the
mediator that separate, or private mediation be done.  This means the mediator
speaks to first one person, out of the presence of the other, and then speaks to the
other person, also privately.  This allows victims of domestic violence to have a safe
environment in which to express their feelings about their children.  DO mark the
Mediation Info sheet in the box at upper right.

            4.  Mediators work with parents to find a way in which they can continue to
parent after separation.  Mediators DO help parties learn how they can cooperate
about their kids; they do NOT handle any issues relating to money or property.  There
are issues that no court or mediator can deal with adequately, such as personal habits
of the other parent that you may disapprove of.  Please do not imagine that for every
slight there is a legal remedy.  The law was never created that will catch every slip-up
of a slightly negligent parent, or even every nasty act of an annoying ex spouse.  

            5.  Mediators want to help you create a parenting plan that is tailored to your
individual needs, and those of your children.  If you will do a little work before you go
to mediation, and make a list of holidays, school vacations, and other possible visits
for the children, you will be able to let the mediator know your ideas quickly and
thoroughly.  The parent who is most organized and prepared in mediation obtains
orders most likely to meet his/her needs.  DO your homework.  Bring the children’s
school calendars with you if you can.

            6.  Mediators in Stanislaus County are mental health professionals.  They act
as your child's advocate.  They do not want to hear how much YOU are hurting.  They
want to hear what your KIDS are going through, how they are acting, and what they
need.  DO phrase your comments in mediation keeping this in mind.  In San Joaquin
County, the mediators have mental health training as well.  In Stanislaus and San
Joaquin Counties, attorneys are REQUIRED by the court to participate in the initial
mediation sessions.  In Merced County and Tuolumne County, no attorneys are
allowed in the mediation process, and the mediators are mental health professionals.

7. It is a good idea for all parents going through this system to seek
counseling for themselves, or their children, or all of the above.  If you cannot afford
professional counseling, consider joining a peer counseling group such as those
sponsored by HAVEN in Modesto, or a church-sponsored program at your local house
of worship.  Attending parenting classes can be very helpful for parents trying to
cope with unhappy children at this time in their lives, and it is NOT a sign of unfitness
to seek out such a class.  Local hospitals and Sierra Vista Children's Center in
Modesto are good places to start looking.  There are many fine books on parenting
available at the library and local bookstores, as well, if you are a reader.  For young
children, try Mom's House, Dad's House by Isolina Ricci to start.  Sierra Vista Children’
s Center in Turlock and in  Modesto is a United Way Agency, and operates on a sliding
scale for their counseling rates, and they sponsor many superb counselors.  They can
help in developing communication skills for you and your ex spouse, even if only you
attend.  If you need further referrals, just ask the attorney.  We recommend the
following two paperbacks, easy reads and amusing and very helpful:

a. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, & Listen so Kids will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine
b. Joint Custody With a Jerk, BY Julie A. Ross and Judy Corcoran

            8.  Finally, mediation is NOT a therapy session.  It is not a "dump" session,
either.   No one wants to hear all the petty disputes that brought you to separation.  
No one is going to care if your ex- has been unfaithful, or irresponsible with money.  
We have had a NO-Fault dissolution system in California for nearly 40 years, and all
other 49 states have also adopted such laws, and you need to focus on concerns that
affect the children, like substance abuse, child abuse, and practical concerns such as
work schedules and school calendars. You should know that since the 1990's, drug
testing is the rule of the day, and under certain circumstances, the mediator can
order you and your spouse to drug test randomly.  This is not the time to participate in
“recreational use” of controlled substances.   You can have your kids, or you can
have your drugs/alcohol.  Not both.

            If you have further questions about the process, and feel you need help from
an attorney prior to court, and you have already attended the orientation program,
please call immediately for a short appointment well before your court date.

            ---DORRIE E. WHITLOCK
               Attorney at law
               Practice Limited to Family Law                                
               (209) 549-2211