Family Court Services – Mediation & Investigation Services
Access is available for persons with disabilities. Please contact Family Court Services for additional information.
Family Court Services Forms
To access local forms for Family Court Services, please visit our Local Forms page.
Family Court Services (FCS)
Family Court Services performs services upon referral from the Court in areas related to Child Custody Mediation, Child Custody Investigations, Probate Guardianship/Conservatorship Investigations (and related mediations), Declare Minor Free of Parental Control Investigations, Stepparent Adoption Investigations as well as other investigations as directed by the Court. In all cases once parties/petitioners are referred by the Court to Family Court Services they must contact the office in person or by phone to complete the intake process. For a schedule of fees for available services please go to our Fees and Payments page.
When does a Family Court Services appointment occur?
Mediation appointments occur only after parties in a case have been referred by the Court, have contacted the Family Court Services office, and have completed their intake paperwork. To access intake forms online please go to our Self Help Page (insert link). If a party or parties referred for mediation fail to contact Family Court Services a memorandum will be sent to the Court ten (10) Court business days before the scheduled hearing to review the report, and the parties will need to be re-referred. In cases where Family Court Services has not received a referral attached to a Request for Order document, a memorandum may not be submitted to the Court if neither party has contacted the office. Please keep in mind that mediation appointments cannot be made until both parties contact Family Court Services.
For investigation appointments, the petitioner (s) most contact the office of Family Court Services when referred by the Court or they will need to be re-referred at the next scheduled hearing. To access intake forms online please go to our Self Help Page (insert link).
Who conducts the Family Court Services appointment?
The court employs experienced professionals (known as Child Custody Recommending Counselors) who have specialized training in areas pertaining to children and families. These areas include, but are not limited to, effective co-parenting, conflict resolution, parenting techniques, children's developmental stages, domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse and neglect.
In the role of Court Investigator FCS staff receive annual training in the areas listed above in addition to training related to Probate topics such as conservatorship accounting, ICWA laws, the needs of individuals with developmental needs, cognitive assessments, Dementia/Alzheimer’s treatment, and the effect of undue influence upon vulnerable populations.
Information by Case Type:
Family Court Services provides Mediation appointments free of charge (for intial referrals, $100.00 for re-referrals for each party) to the parties in all pending Madera County cases. Referrals to Family Court Services come from the Judge at the time of a hearing or through instructions provided by the Judge to the parties when the Request for Order is signed.
Madera County is what is known as a “recommending county” meaning that if parents do not come to a full agreement in their mediation session the mediator may make a full or partial recommendation to the Court regarding child custody and visitation based upon what appears to be in the “best interest” of the child/children.
If a Domestic Violence Restraining Order or Criminal Protective Order is in place, or if a party declares under penalty of perjury that there is a history of domestic violence perpetrated by the other party, that party is entitled to a separate session. Parties must inform the Family Court Services staff of the restraining orders or history of domestic violence when making appointments in order to get a separate session. If peaceful contact is allowed (as indicated on the restraining order), the protected party (victim) may elect to complete a request for a conjoint mediation session, waiving their right to a separate session.
***If parties do not call to cancel/reschedule their appointment at least 48 hours prior their appointment date and time and do not attend their scheduled session, a $200.00 fee not covered by a fee waiver will be charged.
Ex-Parte Records and Contact: Please do not attempt to provide the mediator with documents that have not been filed and served upon the other party. Filed proof of service documents are required to verify service has been performed. Please do not attempt to contact your mediator after your session; no contact with the mediator regarding your case can take place after the end of the session.
Parents who cannot agree on child custody or visitation issues must go to a Family Court Services mediation appointment. Before parents go to their Family Court Services appointment, they are to first complete an orientation either in person or online. This orientation is required on an annual basis.
Families Change Guide
This is an online guide for families going through separation and divorce. With three versions – one for parents, one for children, and another for teens and pre-teens – it complements the legal information found here.
Family Code 3111/3118 Child Custody Investigations
Courts order child custody evaluations, investigations, and assessments to assist them in determining the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of children with regard to disputed custody and visitation issues and/or allegations of abuse. In many high conflict cases, the Court cannot rely solely on the parties and the witnesses selected by the parties to come to an informed conclusion on child custody and visitation. The child custody professional will prepare a report that summarizes each parent's ideas about what would be best for the children and may include information from other people who have had contact with your children, law enforcement reports, child welfare referral history, school records, mental health records, medical records, and other collateral resources depending on the specific case. The child custody professional analyzes the family dynamics as they affect the children, and searches for a solution that serves the best interests of the children. Court may use the information contained in an evaluation report to issue custody orders. Parties may also use the information to reach an agreement.
The child custody professional will prepare a written evaluation report that includes the description of the information obtained and considered by the investigator. The investigator may include detailed parenting plan recommendations that are consistent with the health, safety, welfare, and best interest of the children. This report will be provided to each parent (and attorney if represented) and filed with the court (as a confidential document).
A conservatorship is a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the “conservator”) to care for another adult (called the “conservatee”) who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances.
To learn more about conservatorships, watch With Heart: Understanding Conservatorship. Some of the court forms shown on the video are outdated, but the information the video provides is current and relevant and may help you understand the process better.
If you want to understand what a conservator's duties and responsibilities will be, read the Judicial Council's Handbook for Conservators . The law says all conservators must have a copy of this handbook.
Once parties are referred to Family Court Services for a conservatorship investigation, parties will contact the office of Family Court Services, complete an intake form, and interview appointments will be scheduled.
Guardianship is when a court orders someone other than the child’s parent to:
- Have custody of the child; or
- Manage the child's property (called "estate"); or
The information in this section is about probate guardianships. These cases are brought by the person seeking to be appointed guardian or by someone else in the family asking the court to appoint a guardian. If custody of the minor was awarded to a non-parent through the juvenile dependency court, this section does NOT apply.
A probate guardianship of the person is set up because a child is living with an adult who is not the child’s parent, and the adult needs a court order to make decisions on behalf of the child. Generally, probate guardianships are for children under 18. In the case of immigrant youth who are seeking special immigrant juvenile status, the law allows a guardianship of the person to be requested (or extended) for a young person who is already 18 but still under 21.
Family Court Services investigates guardianship petitions for relatives of the subject child/children. If a petitioner is not a relative, the investigating agency will be Madera County Child Protective Services. Once parties are referred to Family Court Services for a guardianship investigation, parties will contact the office of Family Court Services, complete an intake form, and will be asked to complete a Livescan fingerprint check (a list of Livescan locations is available in the Family Court Services office). An appointment will then be scheduled.
Parties in a guardianship matter may also be referred to Family Court Services for guardianship mediation services related to visitation between the child and the natural parents or other family members.
Termination of Guardianship
Any of these people can ask the court to end a guardianship:
- The child, if 12 or older.
- The parents of the child; or
- The guardian.
Before ending a guardianship, the judge considers the following:
- The child's best interests: The person asking to end the guardianship must be able to prove to the court that ending the guardianship is in the child's best interest.
- If the parent wants the child to live with him or her again, the judge will want proof that the parent:
- Has a stable place to live.
- Has a source of income.
- Is "fit" or has been sufficiently rehabilitated, and
- Can provide a good home for the child.
- If the child is more than 12 years old, what he or she wants and where he or she wishes to live may be considered.
Stepparent/Domestic Partner Adoption and Declare Minor Free from Parental Control Investigations
Adoption is the legal process of establishing a legal parent-child relationship when the adopting parent is not the child's biological or birth parent. That means that once the adoption is final, the adoptive parents have all the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent-child relationship. That new parent-child relationship is permanent and is exactly the same as that of a birth family.
Family Courts Services conducts investigations to determine whether the parental rights of an absent parent should be terminated in order for an adoption to take place, and also conducts the investigations for cases where the child’s stepparent or the domestic partner of a natural parent petitions the Court for adoption.
For additional information please visit the California Courts Self-Help page on adoptions.