Who will get long-term custody if my spouse and I cannot agree?

If you and your spouse disagree about custody, a superior court judge will decide who take care of the children. But, the law says you first must talk with a mediator or counselor who will try to help you work out a plan. The judge will appoint a court mediator to talk with you. In some counties, you may be charged for part of the mediation if you need a number of sessions. You and your spouse may also try to work out a plan with a private mediator before going to court. Your lawyer may be able to help you find one. It is a good idea to ask about the mediators experience and training in addition to the costs. Conversations with private mediators are confidential. And, in many California counties the talks that you and your spouse have with a court mediator also are confidential. However, in some counties, the court appointed mediator may make a recommendation to the judge. Then, this mediator may be called to testify as a witness if your custody dispute goes to court. You should discuss this possibility with your lawyer or the mediator before mediation begins. The best custody arrangements are the ones that both parents agree on. Parents are often able to work out their custody disagreements through mediation. However, if mediation doesn't work, a judge will listen to both sides and rule on your dispute in a court hearing. And, the judge may appoint an evaluator to prepare a written report in order to learn more about the issue. For example, an evaluator would be appointed if one parent claims the other is unfit to care for the children. A parent also may request an evaluation. You should know that parents may be charged for all or part of the evaluation costs if they can afford to pay. Custody disputes usually will be decided before other contested issues in your divorce, such as which parent gets the house, car or other possessions. A custody case may be put ahead of many other cases on a court's calendar, too.