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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Family Law Corner: Parenting Problems Played Out in Custody Case


By Ariel Sosna and Sarah Van Voorhis, Van Voorhis & Sosna


Chris Bosh, power forward for the Miami Heat, forced his ex-girlfriend, Allison Mathis, into family court on February 27 because he claimed he was being denied visitation under their existing order. The custody battle first made headlines when Bosh had to file a motion to have their daughter attend the NBA playoffs. Mathis may have objected because Bosh apparently blocked her from appearing on the show “Basketball Wives” just a month prior to the playoffs. Bosh asked for damages and an injunction against using their story in the show. He also claimed that Mathis has refused to speak to him since April 2011 and ignores his requests to see his daughter.

However, what made recent entertainment headlines was not the dispute itself, but rather the Maryland judge’s commentary about their differences. According to the entertainment press, the judge scolded them for not working out their parenting problems “like adults.” The judge insisted that the couple should not have involved the use of “lawyers and government” in what should have been a “levelheaded conversation” about visitation.

While the Bosh/Mathis case was heard in Maryland, in California, parties are given every opportunity to resolve their differences before a judge makes the decision for them. Pursuant to Family Code §3170, before a custody dispute is decided, the parents must attend mandatory child custody mediation. Mediation provides parents an opportunity to discuss and resolve issues relating to the best interest of their children. Some counties are “recommending” counties, which means if the parents do not come to agreements in mediation, the mediator will write a report to the judge, suggesting an outcome based on the mediator’s experience and expertise.

San Francisco County is a “non-recommending” county, which means that our mediators do not write reports or make suggestions to our judges and mediation remains completely confidential. However, San Francisco County has also put into place several procedures to help parties settle their custody matters and work together. For example, the first hearing date is for “readiness calendar” which is an opportunity for the court to explain the process and the value of mediation and reaching agreements. The parties are given orientation packets which help them understand the court process and then are scheduled for mediation. They only come back for a hearing if they fail to reach an agreement in mediation.

Time will tell whether the judge’s strong words have the desired effect on Mathis and Bosh.


Sarah Van Voorhis, a Certified Family Law Specialist, and Ariel Sosna are founding partners of Van Voorhis & Sosna.

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