Aug 12, 2020
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Family Court Services

Location and hours

CLERK's NOTICE - Family Court Services has Moved!

NOTE: Courtesy Copies Not Required.

CHILD CUSTODY RECOMMENDING COUNSELING MANDATORY ORIENTATION

You must complete the orientation process prior to your Family Court Services appointment.
First: Click and watch the entire video below. The orientation video includes important information about helping children through parental separation, and offers advice on how to develop a parenting plan.
Second: Once you’ve completed the video please complete the FCS Intake Form by clicking below.

 

English

Spanish

FCS Intake Form (English)

FCS Intake Form (Spanish)

CHILD CUSTODY RECOMMENDING COUNSELING

The Family Court Services' (FCS) child custody recommending counseling sessions (hereafter referred to as recommending counseling sessions) provide an opportunity for parents to meet with a trained professional to develop a parenting plan that is in the best interest of their children. The Family Law Code governs recommending counseling sessions and sets forth its purposes: In part, to reduce acrimony that may exist between parents, develop a parenting plan that ensures the children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents (absent any risk factors) and to effect a settlement that is in the best interest of the children. Recommending counseling sessions afford the parents the opportunity to develop their own plans to raise their children after the decision to separate has been made, rather than to delegate that responsibility to others, such as mediators, psychologists, evaluators or judges.

IMPORTANT TERMS YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND

Legal Custody

The rights and responsibilities of parents to make decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of their children.

Joint Legal Custody

Both parents share in the right and responsibility to make decisions for their children.

Sole Legal Custody

One parent has the right and responsibility for making decisions for children.

Physical Custody

How much time the children spent with each parent; where the children live; how day-to-day responsibilities are fulfilled.

Joint Physical Custody

Children spend a significant amount of time with each parent. This does not meant the time must be equally shared by the parents.

Sole Physical Custody

Children reside primarily with one parent, and have visitation with the other parent.

IF THERE HAS BEEN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

What is abuse? Abuse means to hit, kick, hurt, scare, throw things, pull hair, push, follow, harass, sexually assault, isolate, or threaten to do any of these things. Domestic violence is abuse that may be spoken, written, or physical. Security and safety issues are given serious priority at Family Court Services. If you are protected by a restraining order due to past acts of domestic violence, or sign under penalty of perjury that you have a history of domestic violence (even if you have no restraining orders), you may request to meet separately with the recommending counselor, and/or you can request to have a support person accompany you (Family Code sections 3181 and 6303). If this applies to you, you must fill out the FCS domestic violence form and submit at the time of your recommending counseling appointment (link below). If the Court finds that one parent has perpetrated domestic violence against the other parent, physical and legal custody, as well as time with your children may be affected (Family Code § 3044). For general information go to: http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-domesticviolence.htm

IF THERE ARE CONCERNS ABOUT DRUGS OR ALCOHOL

Family Code Section 3011(d) requires consideration of parent’s “habitual or continual” use of illegal drugs in determining the best interest of the children. Abuse of legal drugs shall also be taken into consideration when ensuring that the children’s best interest are secured. Share any concerns regarding controlled or illicit substance use and/or abuse to the recommending counselor at the time of your appointment.

Questions about Child Custody Recommendations

What is a Child Custody Recommending Counseling Session?

Child Custody Recommending Counseling sessions are a confidential meeting with a Family Court Services staff member who will assist parents in working together to design a parenting plan where they can share their children after separation or divorce. The session may take up to two hours, be sure to allow sufficient time for your appointment.

Who conducts the Child Custody Recommending Counseling Sessions?

Before someone can be considered a child custody recommending counselor, he/she is required by California law to have a master’s degree in counseling, social work, or a related field; and a minimum of two years’ work experience post master’s degree. Additional education may be substituted or some experience and additional experience may be substituted for some education. Recommending counselors must also receive additional hours of continuing education annually.

What happens in a Custody Recommending Counseling Session?

Parents will be scheduled for an appointment with a recommending counselor. No other parties will be present unless one of the parties is a victim of domestic violence. In that case, the victim may request a separate session or may have a support person present. If the parents reach an agreement on a parenting plan, the plan will be submitted to the Court. If the parents are unable to reach agreement, the recommending counselor will make recommendations for the Court to consider, including proposed orders.
The recommending counselor meets with both parents and works on creating a parenting plan that is deemed to be in the minor's best interest. The recommending counselor’s job is to provide assistance to the parties, without undue influence or personal bias, in developing a parenting plan that protects the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child and that optimizes the child's relationship with each party by including, as appropriate, provisions for supervised visitation in high-risk cases; designations for legal and physical custody; a description of each party's authority to make decisions that affect the child; language that minimizes legal, mental health, or other jargon; and a detailed schedule of the time a child is to spend with each party, including vacations, holidays, and special occasions, and times when the child's contact with a party may be interrupted; and, to conclude the session with a written parenting plan summarizing the parties' agreement or recommending counselor’s recommendations which are given to counsel or the parties before the recommendation is presented to the court.

What issues are generally discussed?

Only child custody and visitation issues will be discussed. Issues of child or spousal support, division of property, or enforcement of an existing court order will not be addressed.

How long will the recommending counseling session take?

The session can last up to two hours. However, please know that due to parties’ late arrival and/or being unprepared at the appointment, less time may be allowed for your session. Please arrive on time, and be prepared with your intake form filled out.

What documents may I submit at the time of the recommending counseling session?

Any documentation you want the recommending counselor to review must be filed with the Court in a timely manner. However, documents showing compliance with prior orders (proof of counseling, education, attendance at AA meetings, etc.) may be presented at Family Court Services without prior service on the opposing party. No other documents will be accepted at the time of your session.

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan defines the time the parents will spend with the children and vise‐versa. The plan may include holidays, vacations, transportation arrangements, or other pertinent issues that address the overall welfare of the children.

What if a parent presents a risk to the children?

The recommending counselor will make recommendations which, if adopted, help ensure the child(ren)’s safety. The recommending counselor may also make recommendations to assist the family such as therapy, parenting classes, anger management classes or drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.

Are children’s wishes considered?

The law states the court must "consider" and give "due weight" to the wishes of children who are of "sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody." The judge decides when a child has attained this capacity and must only consider the child’s wishes, not follow them. The Court may also request that a child be interviewed by a recommending counselor; parents and children 14 and older may also make such a request, or request that the child provide direct testimony to the Court.
If the parents are unable to resolve their custody issues at the time of the Family Court Services appointment, the recommending counselor may ask to interview the child in order to clarify issues brought up in the session. If parents reach agreements on their own, interviewing the minors may not be necessary.
Children are not to be brought to Family Court Services unless the Court or the recommending counselor has requested that the children be interviewed.

What if we reach an agreement?

When an agreement is reached, that agreement is reported to the judge prior to the hearing, copies of said report are also provided to the parties or their attorneys. Reaching your own agreements instead of having a custody and visitation plan superimposed by the Court is in everyone’s best interest. Studies have shown the not only are parties more content with their own agreements, but they are also more prone to follow said arrangements.

What if we are not able reach an agreement?

When parents are unable or unwilling to reach an agreement on custody and visitation issues, the recommending counselor will make a written recommendation to the judge regarding appropriate orders on disputed issues, as well as a written report on any partial agreements made by the parents. A copy of this will be provided to you or your attorney prior to, or at the court hearing. It is important to note that a narrative may also accompany the recommendation, stating in part the rationale behind the recommendation or partial agreement.
Recommendations may include, but are not limited to, therapy for various family members, drug and alcohol treatment, the appointment of a Family Court Services evaluator or private mental health professional to evaluate the dispute(s) and prepare a written report for the Court, at your expense, as determined by the judge. Sometimes an independent attorney or a Special Master is appointed to represent your child’s interests, which may be at your expense.

What happens at the conclusion of my recommending counseling session?

After you have left Family Court Services, you will only be returning if a new motion requiring your reappearance at Family Court Services is filed, or if a review has been ordered by the Court.
The mediation report will be e‐mailed (or sent via US regular mail in the absence of an e‐mail address) to you or your attorney prior to the court hearing or you may receive a copy at the time of the hearing.

What if I miss or can’t make my recommending counseling appointment?

Irrespective of the reasons that prevent you from attending the recommending counseling session, you will not be provided with another appointment. Please attend your court hearing as scheduled; at that time, the Court will provide you with further guidance on how to proceed.

May I contact the recommending counselor?

No, the recommending counselors will not take or return telephone calls from parents or interested parties. Local Rules prohibit the recommending counselors from having contact with the parties prior to, or after the recommending counseling session. Further, the recommending counselors and secretaries do not respond to written or telephonic communication asking for legal advice, as this is also prohibited. You must contact an attorney, paralegal, the Facilitator’s Office, or Legal Aid for legal assistance.

What if you want to move away with the children?

At times parties agree on their own to a parent moving away with the children to a different county, state, or outside the United States of America; ensuring, of course, that children have continual access and contact with the other parent. However, if there is a need for you to move away with your children, and the other parent does not agree, it will be up to the Court to determine whether or not the request for a child to move away from one of the parents will be in that minor's best interest. The recommending counselor will not be making a recommendation as to whether or not the children should or should not move away with the parent making the request.

Will the recommending counselor recommend what school my child should attend?

No, the recommending counselor will not make a recommendation as to which school your child should attend. This is a parenting issue that should be decided by the parents. If this is an issue for you, the Court will be able to guide you further on this request.

When would supervised visits be appropriate for a parent?

If there are serious problems, like child abuse, substance abuse, neglect, mental health issues of one or both parent, etc., that interfere with properly caring for the children. There are three types of supervised visitation providers: Nonprofessional provider, professional providers and therapeutic providers. All providers must follow the uniform standards of practice for providers of supervised visitation as outlined in standard 5.20 of the California Standards of Judicial Administration.

A nonprofessional provider* is usually a family member or friend who is qualified to serve in this role. Professional and therapeutic providers usually charge a fee for their services and are experienced in and trained to provide supervised visitation services.

The Court will specify which type of provider the case necessitates, and if applicable, will specify which party(ies) will be responsible for payment of the professionally supervised visits.

* To review guidelines on nonprofessional providers please go to:https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/Guide-Nonprofessional-Booklet.pdf

How do I modify custody and/or visitation orders?

If both parties are in agreement, you may submit a stipulation and order, or you may file an Order to Show Cause or a Notice of Motion at the Family Law Clerk's Office.

© 2020 Superior Court of Sonoma County