Welcome to the Superior Court of California, County of Orange, Family Court Services. In this page you will find links for information about our services. Click on the links below for information about our Location and Office Hours, and for questions and answers about services.
Lamoreaux Justice Center
341 The City Drive
Fifth Floor, Room 507
Orange, CA 92868-3209
Telephone (657) 622-6196
TDD (657) 622-8390
Office hours, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
See OC Superior Court Location Page for more specific information on location and map.
Question: What is a child custody mediation?
Answer: In California, child custody mediation is a mandatory process (Family Code Section 3170) that provides parents an opportunity to discuss and resolve issues relating to the best interest of their children. Mediation is a confidential process conducted by highly trained Court Mediators who assist the parents by facilitating a cooperative dialogue focusing on the developmentally appropriate needs of their children. It is the task of the Court Mediator to create a safe, neutral setting in which parents may discuss and resolve issues related to the parenting of their children.
Question: How can child custody mediation help parents?
Answer: A skilled and trained Court Mediator can encourage parents to focus on and understand the needs of their children and assist them in developing a parenting plan that considers the best interest of the child and the needs of each family member. What is discussed between the parents and the Court Mediator is not shared with anyone, including the Court. Child abuse is an exception to this rule.
Question: Who conducts the child custody mediation?
Answer: Child custody mediation is conducted by Court Mediators who are skilled professionals with at least a Master's Degree and extensive clinical experience in the fields of psychology, marriage, family and child counseling. Statutory training requirements include: domestic violence and its effects on children; substance abuse; child sexual abuse; family dynamics; the effects of divorce and separation on children; and the developmental needs of children.
Question: How does child custody mediation work?
Answer: Court Mediators understand that parents know their children better than anyone else and want to do what is best for them. The Court Mediator listens carefully to the concerns and ideas of each parent, and encourages the parents to listen to one another with an open mind. The goal is to help parents discuss and develop a parenting plan that reflects the developmental needs of their children and one that enhances the quality of their lives.
Question: How do I access Family Court Services?
Answer: Most of the work of Family Court Services is generated by court filings and petitions which are related to children in the Family Law and Juvenile Courts. We do offer, at no cost, mediation services to parents who want to resolve custody or visitation disputes without filing for a court hearing. This is called "informal mediation" and can be scheduled by calling (657) 622-6196 for an appointment. It is not necessary to have an attorney to participate in the mediation process.
Legal Terms Related to Custody and Visitation:
- 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 relating to the health, education and welfare of a child.
- Sole Legal Custody: One parent has the right and responsibility to make decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of a child.
- Physical Custody:How much time the children spend 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.
- Sole Physical Custody: Children reside primarily with one parent and have visitation with the other parent.
- Joint Custody: This term means both joint legal and joint physical custody. Parents agree to share it all.
- Visitation: Times when one parent has the children and is fully responsible for them.
- Supervised Visitation: Visitation is limited to special situations in which a third party, specified by the Court, is present. Supervised, monitored visitation may occur when there is a need to protect children because of drug or alcohol abuse, child abuse or neglect, family violence, or other serious problems, or when children are getting to know an absent parent.
Question: What is a Parenting Plan?
Answer: A Parenting Plan is an agreement between the parents that spells out the specific details of custody and visitation arrangements for their children.
Question: What are some options for a Parenting Plan?
Answer: Options for Parenting Plans may differ, depending on the individual circumstances of each family and the age of the children.
- Primary custody arrangements often include alternate weekends, a mid-week visit, and alternating holidays, special days and summer vacations with the other parent.
- Joint custody arrangements allow for the children to spend a significant amount of time in each parent's home.
- Minimizing the need for child care by arranging time so that each parent has the child during their days or hours off from work, when they can spend time with and care for the child, thus maximizing the children's time with both parents.
- Guidelines for various Parenting Plans may be obtained by calling Family Court Services (657) 622-6196.
Question: Do Court Mediators give legal advice?
Answer: Court Mediators are not attorneys and cannot advise anyone regarding legal practices or procedures. Court Mediators can answer questions about the court process.
Question: Why did the Court order an investigation?
Answer: The Court may order an investigation in custody or visitation disputes if the judge believes that it is necessary to resolve complex issues such as safety of the children. Court Mediators and attorneys may also recommend to the Court that an investigation be conducted if, in their judgment, it would help to clarify allegations and promote settlement of issues in the best interest of the children.
Question: What are the qualifications of the investigators?
Answer: The minimum educational requirements for a child custody investigator are established by law and the California Rules of Court. Generally, the investigator must possess a Masters Degree in Psychology, Social Work, Counseling, or Marriage and Family Therapy. Furthermore, investigators are required to have training in several areas including the developmental needs of children, family dynamics, domestic violence, safety assessment and child abuse. For more information on the education, training and experience requirements for child custody investigators see California Family Code 3110.5 and California Rule of Court 5.225c-i.
Question: What happens in an investigation?
Answer: There are some tasks that are completed in every investigation, including the following: criminal history checks are completed on each parent; child protection agencies provide reports regarding investigations into allegations of child abuse involving the parents, any of the parent’s children and the children who are subjects of the child custody investigation. If pertinent, police reports and school records may also be obtained.
The investigator will also speak with relevant witnesses (social workers, teachers, therapists, law enforcement officials, and persons who have directly observed incidents.) The investigator will not speak to "character witnesses," multiple persons who have observed the same incident, persons who want to offer their opinions about one of the parents, persons whose information is second hand, gossip, or not relevant to the investigation.
Question: Will all household occupants have a criminal background check completed?
Answer: Yes, if a household occupant provides any caretaking for the child. The following persons will have background checks completed: Any adult relatives living in your home; cohabitating girlfriend or boyfriend; spouse, domestic partners.
Unless ordered by the court, no criminal background check will be completed on an adult occupant in the home who does not participate in the caretaking of the child and does not fit the descriptions stated in the previous paragraph. However, a criminal background check may be conducted on this person, or if the investigator discovers information that may precipitate the need for a criminal background check.
Question: Does the investigator speak to the witness I want spoken to?
Answer: The investigator will only speak to persons that have made direct observations of events or behaviors that are relevant to the issues identified by the court. You should be prepared to tell the investigator specifically what information the witness will likely report. Witnesses that tend to have more impact are those who are usually viewed as objective, such as police officers, school officials, and social workers.
However, witnesses that may be viewed as aligned with one parent may also provide important information, especially if they have observed behaviors of one or both parents. Witnesses that are not likely to be spoken to are those who have observed events from the distant past (except for incidents of domestic violence or child abuse), character witnesses, etc.
Question: What should I do to be prepared for the investigation?
Answer: Complete the Parent Information Packet and provide it to your investigator. Have relevant documents, report cards, names and numbers of witnesses immediately available.
Question: How much time will the investigator spend on our case?
Answer: The time of each investigation varies. Such factors as complex issues, levels of conflict, or the availability of witnesses affects the time the investigator must spend to complete the investigation. The range varies, usually between 20 and 30 hours.
Question: Does the deposit I paid cover the cost of the investigation?
Answer: Not usually. The costs of investigation are charged on an hourly basis to the parties. The costs of Partial Investigations have ranged from $600.00 to $3,500.00. Full Investigations have ranged from $1,200.00 to $4,500.
Question: The investigation has been ordered; can the other parent and I still make an agreement and get the investigation cancelled?
Answer: Oftentimes, yes. However, based on factors in your case, the judge may require the investigation to go forward even though both parties would like to make an agreement. This may occur when there are allegations of domestic violence, child abuse/negligence or substance abuse. In most cases the parties are allowed to make agreements.
Question: The other parent and I both want to make a custody and parenting agreement but we need help in ironing out some areas of disagreement. Can the investigator help us with this?
Answer: Yes. Investigators are also trained court mediators. You may contact the Supervising Court Mediator, who can then schedule you for a mediation session.
Question: The investigation is because of the other parent's problems; why am I being investigated?
Answer: All child custody investigations evaluate both parents. While there may be several allegations or concerns about the other parent, the court will want information regarding the quality of parenting of each parent.
Question: Will each parent have her or his own investigator?
Answer: There is one investigator assigned to each case.
Question: Can I require the investigator be a male or female?
Answer: You cannot require the investigator have any characteristics, such as gender, race, etc. The responsibility of the investigator is to conduct the investigation in an impartial manner, and to make an evaluation and recommendations based on the evidence obtained in the investigation. Investigators are trained to maintain objectivity and to focus primarily on the best interest of the children.
Question: How long are the interviews?
Answer: The interviews of the parents are approximately 45-90 minutes in length; interviews of the children vary in length.
Question: How many times will I be interviewed?
Answer: Each parent will be interviewed in person one-time. Parents may be contacted by the investigator if the investigator has follow-up questions or needs additional information. Usually children are interviewed once.
Question: Will the children be seen in each parents home?
Answer: If you are having a Partial Child Custody Investigation there will not be a home visit. Partial Investigation interviews are conducted at the office of Family Court Services.
In Full Child Custody Investigations, the children may be seen in each parent’s home; however this is not required and is at the discretion of the investigator. Such factors as court orders, geographical distance, school and work schedules may preclude this from happening.
Question: Will the investigator come to my home?
Answer: If the court ordered a Partial Child Custody Investigation, there will not be an in-home evaluation. If the court has ordered a Full Child Custody Investigation, the investigator will be coming to your home. Home visits will be limited to residences in the following counties: Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino.
Question: Is there a minimum age in order for my child to be interviewed?
Answer: The general limit is age 5. However, at the discretion of the investigator, younger children, may be interviewed. The investigator is trained in conducting interviews with children.
Question: Can I be present when my child is being interviewed?
Answer: Children are interviewed alone. The investigator must make efforts to reduce the possibility that what the child reports is influenced by the presence of one of the parents. There are cases when the child and the parent are observed together, but the child must also be interviewed alone.
Question: Will I be told what my child says?
Answer: A summary of what your child reports to the investigator will be provided in the investigative report. Interviews with children are not confidential. However, the investigator will not review the child’s interview with you.
Question: I live a long distance from the Court; can I be interviewed by phone?
Answer: Interviews by phone present limits that may impact the quality of the interview. The investigator cannot observe non-verbal communication, nor engage in a discussion that is as spontaneous or thorough as a meeting in-person. However, there are circumstances that cannot be overcome, when a telephone interview must occur. Generally, if you reside in one of the counties adjacent to Orange County, or in Ventura County, you will need to appear in person for your interview.
Question: Can I have my attorney present during the interview?
Answer: Attorneys are not permitted to be present.
Question: Will I have to miss work? Will my child have to miss school?
Answer: You may need to miss work. Appointments for interviews are scheduled during regular Court business hours, between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. There are no evening or weekend appointments. It is likely your child will miss some school the date of the interview.
After the Investigation
Question: May I talk to the investigator after the investigation has been completed?
Answer: After the investigation has been completed, contact between parents or a third party and the investigator is not allowed to occur. This restriction is in place to avoid the appearance of favoritism, bias or special treatment. However, you may contact the Supervising Mediator to address questions you may have.
Question: Can a written report be changed after it has been filed with the Court?
Answer: Once the report is filed with the court, it cannot be changed. However, if there is new information the investigator may file an addendum to the report. If an addendum is filed, the investigator will state in the addendum whether or not the new information has any effect on the evaluation or recommendations made in the original report.
Question: What if I don't agree with the recommendations?
Answer: You (or your attorney) may object to the investigator's report at your court hearing. You may voice your concerns and disagreements with the report to the judicial officer hearing your case. You may subpoena the investigator to appear at the hearing; you can then question the investigator regarding those aspects of the report you disagree with. The subpoena must be served five (5) calendar days before the hearing.
Question: Doesn't the Judge just order what the investigator recommends?
Answer: The court does not "rubber stamp" reports. The child custody report may be only one of several factors the judicial officer will consider in making a decision regarding child custody. The judicial officer may incorporate some or all of the recommendations made by the investigator into the custody decision and parenting schedule.
Question: What is the Domestic Violence Prevention Services Project (DVPSP)?
Answer: The DVPSP program was developed and implemented by the Superior Court of California, County of Orange in 1997 to address the serious issue of domestic violence and its impact on children and victims. Highly trained Court Investigators gather background information, including police reports, child abuse reports and witness statements regarding domestic violence. The Court Investigator interviews each parent separately and at separate times. Children of an appropriate age may be interviewed. The court receives a written report detailing the Court Investigator’s finding and any recommendations for the protection of the victim and the children during visitation or visitation exchanges.
Question: When is a Domestic Violence Investigation ordered?
Answer: An investigation is ordered by the Court when a Temporary Restraining Order is requested by an individual. Only those cases in which there are children involved are eligible to participate in the Domestic Violence Prevention Services Project. The Domestic Violence Prevention Services Project includes a specialized assessment and investigation provided at no cost to the family. It is not a criminal investigation.
Question: How does the DVPSP investigation help the Court and who does it?
Answer: The investigation provides valuable information to the Court in the form of police reports, child abuse reports, criminal and DVPSP histories and witness statements. The information helps the Court determine who is the 'primary aggressor' and provides recommendations for a safe parenting plan. All investigations are performed by trained, experienced court staff assigned to Family Court Services. All Court Investigators are skilled professionals who have at least a Master's Degree and extensive clinical experience in the fields of psychology, marriage, family and child counseling, or social work. They are trained in investigations, domestic violence assessment and conflict resolution.
Question: What are the requirements if I or the person that I want to marry is under 18 years-of-age?
Answer: If you are under the age of 18 and want to marry, you must have the approval of your parents and a Court Order (per Family Code Sections 302-304) approving the marriage before you can obtain a marriage license. Trained staff interview the parents of the underage party and the couple, and assess their readiness for marriage. A written report is then sent to the Court with recommendations to grant or deny the underage marriage request. It is the Court's decision to grant or deny the request.
Separating and divorcing can be difficult for both adults and children. The following list of resources provides information for parents, young children and teens interested in understanding separation and divorce.
Resources for Parents:
- Building a Parenting Agreement That Works: Child Custody Agreements Step by Step by Mimi Lyster Zemmelman
- Child Custody: Building Agreements That Work by Mimi E. Lyster
- Co-parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce by Deesha Philyaw & Michael D. Thomas
- Death of a Relationship and the Beginning of the Rest of Your Life by Ismail Yassai, Ph.
- Families Change: http://familieschange.ca.gov/
- Mom's House, Dad's House by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.
- Parenting Apart: How Separated and Divorced Parents Can Raise Happy and Secure Kids by Christina McGhee
- Putting Children First: Proven Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce by: JoAnne Pedro-Carroll
- Surviving Divorce: David Sbarra at TEDxTucson 2012 http://youtu.be/vg92QEL4w4I
- The Impact of Divorce on Children: Tamara D. Afifi at TEDxUCSB http://youtu.be/cKcNyfXbQ
Resources for Children: Ages 3-7
- Families Change: http://familieschange.ca.gov/
- I Have Two Homes by Colleen Le Maire & Marina Saumell
- It's Not Your Fault, Koko Bear by Vicki Lansky
- Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.
- My Mom and Dad Are Getting a Divorceby Florence Bienewfeld
- Sesame Street: Little Children, Big Challenges: http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/divorce
- Standing on My Own Two Feet: A Child's Affirmation of Love in the Midst of Divorceby Tamara Schmitz
- Two Homes by Claire Masurel
Resources for Children: Ages 9-12
- A Smart Girl’s Guide to Her Parent’s Divorce: How to Land on Your Feet When Your World Turns Upside Down by Nancy Holyoke
- Divorce Is Not the End of the World: Zoe's and Evan's Coping Guide for Kids by Zoe Stern & Evan Stern
- Families Change: http://familieschange.ca.gov/
- Kids Health: Marriage & Divorce http://kidshealth.org/kid/videos/talkabout-marriage.html
- The Bright Side: Surviving Your Parents' Divorce by: Max Sindell
- The D Word by: Julia Cook
- The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger
- What's My Job?: Helping Children Navigate the Rough Waters of Separation and Divorce by: Mary R. Donahue, Ph.D. & Gail Thornburgh, Ph.D.
- When Your Parents’ Divorce: A kid to kid guide to dealing with divorce by Kimberly King
Resources for Teens
- Families Change: http://familieschange.ca.gov/
- Now What Do I Do?: A Guide to Help Teenagers with Their Parents' Separation or Divorce by: Lynn Cassella-Kapusinski
- The Big D: Divorce Thru the Eyes of a Teen Activity Guide by Krista Smith
- The Step-Tween Survival Guide: How to Deal with Life in a Stepfamily by: Lisa Cohn & Debbie Glasser, Ph.D.
Dependency and Juvenile Delinquency Mediation are available by order of the Court or agreement of the attorneys when there are unresolved issues between parents and children in reunifying the family after children have been in placement or in custody.
A variety of non-profit social services agencies provide counseling services to divorcing families in the areas of domestic violence, marriage, family and children, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Direct Numbers of Community Resources are:
- Parenting Classes and Counseling Referrals, Infolink: (949) 646-4357
- Child Abuse, Child Abuse Registry: (714) 940-1000
- LOCAL Domestic Violence Hotline: (714) 992-1931
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233