I just got out of court-ordered family-court mediation. I got my first shock at the start, when the mediator said that she was going to speak to my wife separately. I had been told that we would be interviewed together, with no lawyers present.
It turns out that my wife checked a box on a form saying that she has domestic violence allegations, and that entitled her to complain about me to the mediator for 45 minutes in my absence! Furthermore, it allowed her to bring in an advocate in her behalf!
I checked, and the California law does indeed have such a provision, provided that there is a restraining order or an under-oath written allegation of domestic violence. I have no restraining order. I asked my wife's lawyer where that written allegation was, and she wouldn't tell me. Apparently, I don't even have the right to see the accusations against me.
Later, the mediator demanded to interview our 7-year-old daughter. She grilled the poor kid for nearly an hour, with no parent or witness present, and no record of what was said. How is it that my wife is allowed to have an advocate, but a kid does not?
I think that it turned out okay, but I think that the procedure is really wrong. A 7-year-old telling a story will often leave out crucial details, because she is used to talking to people who have a fairly complete context for everything she says and does, and because she has the limited explanatory abilities and experience of a 7-year-old. If asked if her parents fight a lot, how is she to base her answer?
The interview is also extremely stressful on the kid. It is like a police interrogation, and she knows it. Everything she says can be used against her, and her parents. Her fate will depend on the subjective judgment of some dopey mediator.
We ended up spending 5 hours with the mediator, and her only recommendation was for more investigation. More investigation costs $1600. I think that she just wanted more money for her department.