Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Divorce and Family Law attorney Donald F. Conviser, a Certified Family Law Specialist, the principal of Warner Center Law Offices in Woodland Hills, California, with over 35 years of experience serving Divorce and Family Law clients in the Los Angeles and Ventura County courts, writes about FAMILY CONCILIATION PROCEEDINGS, a little known, little used conflict-resolution process available to people having problems with their spouses or the other parent of their child/children.

California Family Code Section 1800 and its succeeding sections address Family Conciliation Proceedings available in certain (but not all) counties, whose purpose is to protect the rights of children and to promote the public welfare by preserving, promoting, and protecting family life and the institution of spouses and the amicable settlement of domestic and family controversies. This article addresses such proceedings in the counties where Family Conciliation Courts are available for such purposes.

The Court appoints a Supervising Counselor of Conciliation to hold conciliation conferences with parties to those proceedings, to make recommendations to the judge of the Family Conciliation Court, supervise the parties as the judge may direct, hold hearings as directed by the judge, make investigations to carry out that intent, make investigations, reports and recommendations, and mediate child custody and visitation disputes (among other things). The code sets forth the required qualifications for the Supervising and Associate Counselor(s) of Conciliation. The Family Conciliation hearings and conferences are private matters from which the public is excluded, and the files of the Family Conciliation Court are closed and not open to public inspection.

When a controversy exists between spouses, or when a controversy relating to child custody or visitation exists between parents (regardless of their marital status), and the controversy might otherwise result in divorce, annulment, legal separation, or the disruption of the household, and there is a minor child of the spouses or parents whose welfare might be affected thereby, the Family Conciliation Court has jurisdiction over the controversy, the parties to the controversy, and all persons having any relation to the controversy. Where the controversy involves domestic violence, the Family Conciliation Court has jurisdiction over the controversy, whether or not the parties have a minor child.

The purpose of filing a Petition for Conciliation is to invoke the Court's jurisdiction to preserve the marriage, to effect a reconciliation of the parties, or to amicably settle the controversy to avoid further litigation over the issue.

There is no filing fee for a Petition for Reconcilation. Following the filing of the Petition, the Court will set a hearing date, and provide notice to the Respondent of the filing of the Petition and the Hearing date, time and place. The hearing(s) are conducted informally as a conference or series of conferences to effect a reconciliation or an amicable adjustment or settlement of the issues in controversy.

The Family Conciliation Court may, with the consent of the parties, recommend or invoke the aid of medical or other specialists or experts, or of the pastor of the parties' religious determination. The Court may make orders at or after the hearing in respect to the conduct of the spouses or parents and the subject matter of the controversy that the Court deems necessary to preserve the marriage or implement the reconciliation of the spouses. No such order shall be effective for over 30 days after the hearing, unless the parties mutually agree to extend that time. A reconciliation agreement may be reduced to a stipulation and order of the court, which is enforceable. During such a proceeding, the Court may make support orders, taking into consideration the recommendations of a financial referee if one is available to the court. Any such support order shall not prejudice the rights of the parties or children with respect to any subsequent order. Any support order made pursuant to Conciliation proceedings may be modified or terminated at any time except as to amounts accrued before the filing of proceedings to modify or terminated.

Beginning on the filing f the Petition for Conciliation and continuing until 30 days after the hearing on the Petition, both spouses are prohibited from filing a Petition for Dissolution or Nullity of their marriage or Legal Separation. After the expiration of that period, if the controversy has not terminated, either spouse may institute a proceeding for Dissolution of Marriage, Nullity, or Legal Separation.

Even if a Petition for Dissolution, Nullity or Legal Separation proceeding has already been filed, such proceeding does not operate as a bar to the instituting of proceedings for Family Conciliation. Such proceedings involving minor children may be transferred to the Family Conciliation Court for proceedings for reconcilation, if there is a minor child of the spouses whose welfare may be adversely affected by the dissolution of the marriage or the disruption of the household or a controversy involving custody, AND there is some reasonable possiblity of a reconciliation being effected.

If there are no children, if an application is made to the Family Conciliation Court for conciliation proceedings in respect to a controversy between spouses, or a contested proceeding for dissolution of marriage, annulment, or legal separation, if it appears to the Court that reconciliation of the spouses or amicable adjustment of the controversy can probably be achieved, the Court may accept and dispose of the case in the same manner as similar cases involving the welfare of children are disposed of.

In a county in which a FAMILY CONCILIATION COURT exists, a person anticipating the imminent filing of a Divorce (Dissolution of Marriage), an Annulment, or a Legal Separation case, can put at least a temporary hold on such proceedings by filing a Petition for Conciliation, to obtain the assistance of the FAMILY CONCILIATION COURT in working towards a resolution of the controversy and hopefully avoid the tragic consequences of Divorce, Annulment or Legal Separation proceedings.