Understanding Family Mediation & Family Court Mediation

Family law mediation is a popular alternative dispute resolution method. It involves a neutral professional who helps family members find common ground.

Mediation is often quicker, more cost-effective, and less contentious than letting a judge decide your case. Many courts even offer mediation programs for litigants. Mediation may be what your family needs to move on to a better place.

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What is family mediation?

Family mediation, sometimes called family law mediation or co-parenting mediation, addresses disagreements involving family members, including:

  • Divorce
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Elder care
  • Estate matters
  • Distributing inherited property and money

A neutral professional, called a family mediator, hears about each participant's wants, then facilitates a conversation to see if they are willing to compromise and agree. Mediators do not represent any of the participants, and they do not give legal advice.

All participants must agree to try mediation for the process to begin. Mediation usually involves two parties (plus the mediator), but multi-party mediation is a possibility.

Family court mediation

Many courts have their own mediation programs. Commonly, courts require parents who are in divorce or custody disputes to try mediation before proceeding to a trial.

In many ways, mediation ordered by the court or provided by the court is no different than mediation you arrange on your own. However, there are some differences. Most significantly, in custody mediation in some California courts, mediators give recommendations to the judge when co-parents don't reach an agreement.

If possible, use family court mediation before you even open a case. The litigation process may cause animus between you and the other person.

The court may hire family mediators or just keep a roster of approved mediators. The court may assign one or let the parties choose one together.

If they reach an agreement in mediation, the participants may choose to exit the court process or get a consent order from the court. Without an agreement, the participants may need to provide the court with proof of attendance.

Court mediation may be free for all or just for participants who cannot afford to pay.

What happens during family mediation?

Typically, one family mediator oversees mediation. Comediation, which has two or more mediators, may suit the matter at hand if it is complex or involves more than two parties.

Every mediator has their own procedure.

Generally, it begins with screening; the family mediator speak with each participant to ensure mediation is appropriate for the situation. Mediation can still happen if there's a history of violence or drug use. But if mediation would put any participant in immediate danger, the mediator may refuse to take the case.

Either all participants stay in one room (called a joint caucus) or the family mediator meets with each separately (called a single caucus). For single caucuses, the mediator moves back and forth between rooms to inform the participants of one another's proposals.

The first meeting is often an orientation, where the family mediator explains the process and rules of mediation. They may start mediating the issues right away afterward.

Mediators tend to organize each session to focus on one issue at a time. Mediation continues until there's an agreement or at least one party decides to walk away from the process.

If there's an agreement, the mediator drafts a memo stating the terms. The participants can memorialize the memo into an official agreement on their own or hire a lawyer to do it for them.

How long does family mediation take?

The length of mediation depends on the complexity of the issues. For example, it may take one to three sessions to agree on just a parenting plan and two to eight sessions to resolve all aspects of a divorce.

In family court mediation, you may be limited to a certain number of sessions.

Thoroughly preparing for mediation can help you reach an agreement more quickly.

How much does family mediation cost?

Costs depend on your case, location and the experience of your family mediator.

Mediators can charge anywhere from $250 per hour to upwards of $1,000 per hour. In total, expect to pay at least a few thousand dollars. Mediators often charge lower hourly fees than lawyers. Splitting the cost with the other participants will also help you save money.

Mediation provided through the court can be free.

How do I choose a family mediator?

When choosing a mediator, consider their:

  • Experience with the matters you're dealing with
  • Communication skills
  • Fees
  • Caseload and availability

Have a consultation before hiring them. This way, you can ask important questions and learn more about their approach.

Family mediation versus therapy

Family mediation and therapy are two separate practices. Therapy helps improve relationships between family members. Family mediation helps resolve disagreements.

Therapy looks to figure out how the relationships came to be what they are and how they can change for the better. Family members are encouraged to challenge their assumptions and understand their role in creating the current situation.

Mediation is intended to help participants make decisions. Family members are encouraged to have an honest conversation to see things from one another's perspective and search for common ground.

Therapy is expected to change a person's mindset and behavior. Mediation isn't expected to cause any personal change; rather, it is expected to cause a change in circumstances.

With mediation, you're usually on a specific timeline, whereas therapy can go on as long as the family members feel they need it.

Tools to help you through family mediation

Throughout mediation — and your entire custody case — you'll need to organize a lot of information. You may need to create multiple drafts of parenting plans and schedules, track your expenses, message the other parent civilly, and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, an expense tracker, parent-to-parent messaging and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody and visitation.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

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Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

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Long distance schedules

Third party schedules


Summer break

Parenting provisions


How to make a schedule

Factors to consider

Parenting plans:

Making a parenting plan

Changing your plan

Interstate, long distance

Temporary plans

Guides by location:

Parenting plans

Scheduling guidelines

Child support calculators

Age guidelines:

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18 months to 3 years

3 to 5 years

5 to 13 years

13 to 18 years


Joint physical custody

Sole physical custody

Joint legal custody

Sole legal custody

Product features:

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Journal what happens

Expense sharing

Parenting time tracking

Calculate time & overnights

Ways to use:

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