California courts offer a program that provides mediation to parents who are separating and getting a divorce. These services are often used when parents are unable to agree on child custody arrangements, and it's a step that a judge might recommend before making a decision on custody. There are some guidelines that parents should follow while they are in divorce mediation, such as respecting each other, putting the child's needs first and listening to each other so that real solutions can be found. The mediator may interview the child if it could help the parents agree on a parenting plan that is in child's the best interest. This approach is taken without putting the child in the middle or making the child choose sides.
While the mediators usually interview both parent together, the interviews may be conducted separately if there is a history of domestic violence or a restraining order between the couple. The mediator could decide to conduct separate interviews even if there is no history of domestic violence.
When the divorce mediation is over, the mediators give the judge a recommendation about child custody based on their opinion if the parents cannot agree. Both parents receive a copy of the recommendation. In some local programs, the mediation remains confidential. If the parents come to an agreement, the mediator may provide the judge a written summary of the decision.
A situation in which mediation might be recommended to divorcing parents is if one parent refuses to allow the other parent to see their child or refuses to discuss a custody or visitation plan that involves the other parent. Although recommended, the parents do not have to talk to a mediator. If this is the case, the issue could proceed directly to the judge.
Source: California Courts, "Custody Mediation", September 29, 2014