Many people think that, when one starts a divorce (or custody proceeding, or request to modify support), one deals solely with an opposing party, that person’s lawyer and a judge acting as kind of a referee.  The reality is more complicated.  This week’s blog starts a series on independent agencies which work with the Family Court, but are not actually part of it.

Today’s topic is Family Court Services, or FCS.  Every county has one, but their role differs subtly (but importantly) from county to county.  Per the San Diego FCS website, the purpose of FCS is to “provide child custody recommending counseling in family law cases when separating or divorcing parents cannot agree on a child custody sharing plan.”

This is how it works: the first time a motion is filed in which custody or visitation is at issue, the court is required to set an FCS appointment.  This appointment will precede the motion hearing.  Both parties will attend the appointment (most FCS departments are at or near the courthouse at which the hearing will be held) where they will be interviewed by an FCS staffer.

FCS staffers are county employees.  They are required to have training in a behaviorial science, but they are very rarely attorneys.  Their job is to, in a 30-90 minute interview, determine the optimum custody and visitation arrangement for the minor children in the matter.  Depending on the county, what happens next goes one of two ways.

In “non-recommending” counties, such as Imperial County,  the staffer (called a “mediator” in non-recommending counties) tries to broker an agreement between the parties, and if any be reached (full or partial), she/he drafts the agreement and files it with the court.  If there be no agreement, the fact is noted to the court.  Agreements made are not binding, and failing to abide by them (before they become orders) generally has few consequences.

In “recommending” counties, such as Riverside and San Diego Counties, the staffer (then called a “counselor,” though the FCS department may still have signage calling it “Mediation”) also tries to broker an agreement, but if one is not forthcoming, the counselor drafts a recommendation.  Sometimes the counselor will interview the children before doing so.  This recommendation is then presented to the court.  This recommendation is supposed to be in the hands of the parties for review more than 10 days in advance of the hearing, but this often doesn’t happen in practice.

I cannot overstress the importance of this recommendation.  The court, particularly in San Diego county, will be predisposed to adopting the FCS recommendation, often in its entirety.  While an FCS recommendation can be fought, it is much easier and cheaper to get a good recommendation in the first place; therefore, it is vital that one be prepared for the FCS appointment and make the best impression possible.

Next week’s article will discuss the FCS appointment itself and present tips on how to maximize the utility of that meeting.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes and it should not be relied on as legal advice. An attorney-client relationship is not formed by reading the information on this site and can only be formed by a written agreement that sets forth the scope of the relationship and the fee arrangement. There is no substitute for expert legal assistance. If you need representation, schedule a consultation with the Barefoot team.