January 20, 2011 | 4:49 PM | By Rina Palta
The state today released the results of a lengthy audit and focuses on family court personnel used in child custody disputes. Family courts are the sticky places where marriages are dissolved and questions about the guardianship of children are decided. For that reason, they’re often the subject of controversy, and have come under particular scrutiny for allegedly deferring to mediators and investigators. These mediators (unlike parents) are assumed to have the best interests of the child in mind at all times, and to represent that child’s interests in the battle over custody. Groups like the California Protective Parents Association and the Center for Judicial Excellencesay that these mediators are ill-equipped to perform the complicated task of distinguishing between well-meaning, caring parents and abusive ones.
With those criticisms in mind, State Senator Mark Leno requested an audit of Sacramento and Marin County’s family courts back in 2009. And the results, prepared by State Auditor Elaine M. Howle, indicate some of those fears are justified:
- Auditors found that four of seven mediators used in Marin courts to help settle disputes between separating and divorcing parents did not have documentation showing that they had completed basic training.
- All seven of the mediators couldn’t demonstrate that they had “fulfilled the minimum qualifications, initial training, and continuing education requirements to perform mediations.”
- And when families and individuals filed complaints against mediators, there was little or no documentation proving what actions were taken to respond to and investigate the complaints.
In responding to the audit, which included similar concerns about Sacramento courts, the presiding judge of Sacramento wrote that the court “is largely in agreement with the bureau’s recommendations. In fact we have already begun the process of implementing the great majority of recommendations contained within the bureau’s report.” The presiding judge of Marin, however, wrote that the bold language in the audit “creates an undeserved poor impression of the Marin family court. Likewise, the titles of the two chapters in the report give a similar impression that you found the court to be engaged in widespread disregard for laws, rules, policies and procedures, which, of course, is not true.” Full report below.