Either party may request that the court order evaluation services in the form of a “Child Custody and Parenting Review Conference,” or more simply a “parenting conference,” with Conciliation Services. Although the parties’ attorneys do not attend the conference, the matters raised may be addressed by the court. Therefore, unlike mediation, the parenting conference is not a confidential process.
The purpose of the parenting conference is to help the court determine what is in the best interests of the couple’s child. The focus is on where the child will reside, how much time each parent will spend with the child, and how the important decisions as well as day-to-day decisions regarding the child will be made. In the conference, the court conciliator will identify the parties’ areas of agreement and disagreement over child custody and visitation issues. The conciliator will then make recommendations that he or she believes are in the best interests of the child.
The process begins with a referral from the assigned judge — the parties are ordered to appear at a parenting conference through Conciliation Services. The entire evaluation procedure, from the referral to the submission of a report to the judge, may take two months or longer to complete.
To get a firm understanding of the circumstances, the conciliator gathers information relevant to the child in the family law case, including reports from law enforcement and Child Protective Services. Each parent also completes and submits a detailed questionnaire to the conciliator.
Through a joint session with both parents, and through individual sessions with each parent, the court conciliator interviews the parties, may interview the child depending on age, and observes the parents’ interaction with their child. (Generally, a five-year-old child is too young to be interviewed, but certainly may be observed by the conciliator.) If a parent is fearful of the other party, then the conciliator can make arrangements to avoid a joint session. The conciliator may also interview non-parties to gather more information, such as neighbors, teachers, friends, and other family members.
If, during the conference, the parties come to an agreement on some or all of their custody and parenting issues, and those agreements seem to the conciliator to be in the best interests of the child, then the conciliator may recommend the agreement to the judge. Generally, the conciliator will make detailed recommendations and indicate areas of concern in a written report to the court. The contents of the conciliator’s report include:
A judicial review hearing typically follows the submission of the conciliator’s report to the court and to the parties.