Mediating in Dependency Court

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I am a supervising mediator at the Edelman Dependency Court (via Southern California Family Mediation).  There, I mediate parenting arrangements time transitions (custody and visitation transitions) including the following

  • Exit Orders – These mediations involve a parent who got into trouble (the offending parent), had lost custody to the other parent (non-offending parent) at the beginning of the case, and now has satisfied the court’s requirements and has regained shared custody.  The non-offending parent is naturally mistrustful of the parent who had injured, allowed an injury of, or endangered the child as little as a year earlier, and had temporarily lost physical custody.  On the other hand, the parent who had gotten into trouble, has fulfilled the court’s requirements, has now been cleared by the court for joint physical custody, is now impatient to re-enter the child’s life, and frequently wants to make-up for lost time.  Our job is to work out a mutually satisfactory parenting time-sharing agreement.  We only get cases that parents’ respective dependency lawyers had not been able to settle, cases complicated by a history of domestic violence or infidelity (frequently with the wife’s best friend) or, in at least one parent, difficult personality features including emotional reactivity and vindictiveness, or mental illness.  In this complex environment, in the last 12 months, the program success rate is approximately 95% (over 150 cases).  My personal success rate is 100% (23 cases).
  • Contested Adoptions – The biological parent who had been out of touch (Respondent) with the child for over a year stands to lose forever all parental rights to the custodial parent’s spouse (Petitioner).  We are negotiating in the shadow of a very harsh law and try to give a more humane outcome than required by the statute.  These mediations are tragic affairs where the parent who had been out of touch usually sheds tears as he or she signs away his or her parental rights and becomes a stranger to his own child in the eyes of the law in exchange for as little as 2-4 visits per year.  The custodial parent is often prepared to go to trial fully expecting to win and is often angry with the other biological parent who stands to permanently and completely lose all parenting rights at trial.  Given this legal advantage, the custodial parents do not always negotiate in good faith, sometimes attempt to act out and communicate their anger through the negotiating process by making and withdrawing offers or making humiliatingly low offers.  In this toxic negotiating environment our program success rate is 100% (13 cases).
  • Mediation of dependency disposition with a parent at Mandatory Settlement Conferences (MSC) – I mediate cases where one parent refuses to accept a disposition that all attorneys (including this parent’s attorney) agree on.  The lawyers and the MSC judge think of my role as the Agent of Reality and appreciate my presence there because often enough neither the parent’s own lawyer nor the MSC judge can convince the parent to accept what the professionals believe to be a reasonable, lawful, and inevitable disposition.  I see my role differently.  I think of myself as an Angel of Reality (not Agent) because the parent is desperate and terrified, feeling trapped and under attack from all sides, and because a human being in those circumstances would probably prefer to deal with an angel rather than an agent.

 

The Sane Divorce