Family Dispute Resolution

The Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) Program in the Center for Families, Children & the Courts (CFCC) trains, technically assists, consults with and supports court programs that serve families and children involved in child custody disputes.  The FDR Unit supports trial court staff who provide family and juvenile dependency mediation, child custody evaluation, and other services.  


Most California courts have a family court services department through which mediators and other professionals assist the public. These departments have been expanding their services to include families who are disputing custody or visitation in family and juvenile court, as well as other disputes involving guardianship, marriage between minors, adoption and so on.

In addition to training and the specific projects listed below, the FDR Unit works with trial court staff in these ways:

  • Consultation, support and site visits
  • Identifying effective practices
  • Policy development
  • Legislation affecting the delivery of family dispute resolution services
  • Proposing changes in rules and forms

The Family Dispute Resolution Court Exchange Visit Project
The Family Dispute Resolution unit is overseeing a project that facilitates and supports the collaboration among family dispute resolution (FDR) programs across the state. 

Faculty Development Project
The Family Dispute Resolution unit has partnered with the Judicial Council's Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER) to create a three-day course designed for family and juvenile dependency mediators, child custody evaluators/investigators preparing to serve as faculty for a variety of audiences.  

The FDR Unit collaborates with other units under the Judicial Council, such as those who train judicial officers, court staff, and experts in different divisions of California courts. This sharing of resources helps reduce training costs statewide.  The FDR Unit is currently looking at ways to supplement training that will make content more readily accessible all year and that will reduce expenses for the courts and the Judicial Council. The following lists the types of training offered, budget permitting.

FDR Statewide Educational Institute

This annual conference, budget permitting, brings together more than 400 California FDR directors and supervisors, mediators, and evaluators for mandated continuing education under rules 5.210, 5.225, 5.230 and 5.518 and other requirements under rule 10.474 (Trial court personnel) of the California Rules of Court.

Institute for New Court Professionals 
This training is for newly hired child custody mediators and evaluators in the trial courts and provides a portion of the required training under California Rules of Court, rule 5.210, supplementing the orientation and training that local courts provide when a new staff person is hired.

FDR Regional Training
These one-day events are held in various regions throughout the state and are designed to address diverse regional interests and current needs or concerns. The FDR Unit partners with local courts to set up these local events.

FDR Directors Training
Annual training is provided for trial court family dispute resolution directors, managers, and supervisors. The annual training is provided at statewide events and/or regionally, depending upon budgetary resources.

Training Approval Process

For Program Providers:
To receive Judicial Council approval for a training program, the provider must submit a form with accompanying documents to the council requesting approval for the training.

For Participants:
To receive approval for an upcoming training or one already attended, and the training provider did not seek approval by the Judicial Council, the participant may submit a form with accompanying documents to the Judicial Council requesting approval for the training.

There are 4 types of training approval request forms:

  1. Court- connected child custody mediation
  2. Appointment requirements for child custody evaluators
  3. Domestic violence
  4. Court-connected child protection/dependency mediation

    Required Training

    Court-connected child custody mediators, supervisors, directors (CRC 5.210
    • Must complete 40 hours within the first six months of employment;
    • Must complete 8 hours of continuing education annually;
    • Must complete 4 hours of domestic violence update training

    Court-connected mediation supervisors and directors (CRC 5.210):

    • Must complete a total of 32 hours of training each calendar year. This requirement may be satisfied in part by the 4 hours of domestic violence update and the 8 hours of continuing education.

      Court –connected child protection/dependency mediators (CRC 5.518):

      • Must complete 40 hours of initial dependency mediation training before or within 12 months of beginning practice;
      • Must complete 12 hours of continuing education annually of which 4 hours must be related  to family violence
      • See California Rule of Court 5.518 for training information for volunteers, interns and paraprofessionals

        Court-connected child custody evaluators/investigators (CRC 5.225):

        • Must complete 40 hours of training before appointment;
        • Must complete 16 hours of advanced domestic violence training within a 12 month period;
        • Must complete 4 hours of domestic violence update training annually;
        • Must complete 8 hours of continuing education annually
            In California, when child custody or visitation is contested, the parties are required to participate in mediation.

            The purposes of mediation, under Family Code 3161, are as follows:

            • To reduce acrimony that may exist between the parties;
            • To develop an agreement ensuring that the child has close and continuing contact with both parents, in the best interest of the child;
            • To settle the visitation rights of all parties in a way that is in the best interest of the child.

            Courts in California make available professionally trained mediators to meet with parties at no cost. Parties who obtain a private mediator outside the court will be responsible for all costs.

            When parties reach an agreement through mediation, the mediator helps the parties draft the agreement for the parties, their attorneys (if represented), and the court. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement through mediation, the next step varies according to local court procedures. Some courts ask for more information from the parties during the court hearing; some courts require a report, with or without recommendations, regarding custody and parenting plans; and, other courts refer the parties to evaluation services. Parties can contact their local court for information about family court services programs.

            Family Mediator Qualifications
            Mediators are required to have a master’s degree in a behavioral science substantially related to marriage and family interpersonal relationships and at least two years of experience in counseling or psychotherapy. They also are required to participate in annual continuing education training.

            Juvenile Dependency Mediation
            In California, juvenile dependency mediation is a confidential process conducted by specially trained, neutral third-party mediators who have no decision making power. Juvenile dependency mediation provides a nonadversarial setting in which a mediator helps parties reach a fully informed and mutually acceptable resolution that focuses on the child’s safety and best interest and the safety of all family members. Juvenile dependency mediation is concerned with any and all issues related to child protection. California Rules of Court, rule 5.518 establishes mandatory standards of practice and administration for court-connected dependency mediation services.

            Each program has a policy on who participates in mediation, but when possible, the parties should be directly involved. If the attorneys are not involved in the mediation, they must be given an opportunity to review and agree to any proposal before it is submitted to the court.

            Participants may include child, parents, legal guardian, representatives from child protection agencies, attorneys, guardians ad litem, Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers, other family members, other involved persons, professionals or support persons.

            Juvenile dependency mediators do not make recommendations to the court. Mediators may draft agreements reached during mediation for submission to the attorneys and court.

            Types of Evaluations

            Full Custody Evaluation. This is a comprehensive examination of the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child.

            Partial Custody Evaluation. This is an examination of the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the child that is limited by court order in either time or scope.

            In California, evaluations can be conducted either by court staff or private professionals, depending on the local court’s resources and structure. California Rule of Court 5.220 governs the purpose, responsibilities, scope and ethics of custody evaluators. California Rule of Court 5.225 addresses appointment requirements for child custody evaluators.

            Family and juvenile dependency mediators and child custody evaluators must handle cases involving domestic violence according to state laws and rules of court and must have local protocols consistent with statutory requirement and statewide rules.

            Domestic Violence Protocol for Family Mediation
            By law, in cases in which there has been domestic violence, court-connected child custody mediators must meet with the parties separately at least initially (and in appropriate cases, such as where a request has been made, throughout the case) when any of the following circumstances exist:

            1. There has been a history of domestic violence;
            2. A protective order is in effect; or
            3. When a party alleging domestic violence in a written declaration under penalty of perjury requests a separate mediation.

            Additionally, mediators may decide that separate sessions are appropriate and necessary in any case. They may also decide that a joint session must end and that mediation can continue only in separate sessions.

            Support Persons
            Courts must advise the party protected by a protective order of the right to have a support person attend any mediation orientation or mediation sessions, including separate mediation sessions.

            Parties who are unsure whether separate or joint sessions are appropriate for their case should contact their local family court services unit or assigned mediator. Family court services personnel are trained to be sensitive to issues pertaining to domestic violence and to respond as needed.

            Family Violence Protocol for Juvenile Dependency Mediation
            Juvenile dependency mediation programs must have an intake process that screens for and informs the mediator about any restraining orders, domestic violence, or safety-related issues affecting the child or any other party named in the proceedings. A protocol for conducting mediation in cases in which violence has occurred is required of all programs. This protocol should include the following:

            • A review of case information;
            • The use of a differential domestic violence assessment;
            • An option for the victim to attend the mediation session without the alleged perpetrator being present;
            • Permission for the victim to have a support person present during the mediation process, regardless of whether participating together or separate from the alleged perpetrator. Unless otherwise noted, supports persons do not actively participate in the mediation process; and
            • Address all family violence issues by encouraging the incorporation of appropriate safety and treatment interventions in any settlement.

              Parties who are concerned about their safety are strongly encouraged to contact their local juvenile dependency mediation provider to discuss their concerns. Juvenile dependency mediation personnel are trained to be sensitive to issues pertaining to family violence and provide accommodations as needed. Additional resources regarding domestic violence can be found here.

              Domestic Violence Protocol for Child Custody Evaluation
              When there has been a history of domestic violence between the parties or when there is a protective order in effect, at the request of the party alleging domestic violence in a written declaration under penalty of perjury or at the request of a party who is protected by the order, parties shall meet with the court-appointed investigator separately and at separate times.

              Parties who are concerned about their safety should notify their court-appointed evaluator. Additional resources regarding domestic violence can be found here.

              Domestic Violence Training Requirements

              Family Mediators  
              Family court services mediators are required to complete 16 hours of advanced domestic violence training within the first 12 months of employment and 4 hours of domestic violence update training each year thereafter.

              Juvenile Dependency Mediators
              Juvenile dependency mediators are required to complete 40 hours of training within their first 12 months of employment, part of which includes training on family violence. They are also required to complete 4 hours each year after on issues of family violence.

              Child Custody Evaluators
              Child custody evaluators are required to complete 16 hours of advanced training on domestic violence within a 12-month period and 4 hours each year thereafter.
              © 2018 Judicial Council of California