The Los Angeles County courts are now allowing scheduling of remote appearances in your Family Law, (Divorce, Domestic violence, Child custody and child support), proceeding. Both the public and their attorneys may schedule a Remote Family Law appearance as of August 17, 2020. To use this feature, if you do not have an attorney ; go to LACourt.org and click on Remote Appearances, located on the vertical bar on the right hand side. Here you will find a clickable link to LACourtConnect which will allow you to schedule a remote appearance. If you do have an attorney; the attorney can arrange both appearances. For now, unless your matter is a Restraining Order or Contempt, – you can only schedule a telephone appearance. If at the hearing you convince the judge that a video appearance is warranted, the matter will be continued and your next appearance will include video. The cost is $15 for an audio appearance or $23 for a video appearance. For people who are used to driving an hour to court and then paying $20 to park this will be welcome news. For those who were paying their attorney’s travel time to get to court; it is even more welcome.
Los Angeles Superior Court Family Law Courts Set to Reopen after Coronavirus Closure
When you heard that some businesses were being permitted to reopen amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, your first thought may have been your favorite dine-in restaurant. However, your friendly neighborhood courthouse is also up and running, or at least well on the way to doing so. The courts initially closed on March 23, 2020, more than two months ago, resulting in filing delays, increased processing times, and the rescheduling (and re-rescheduling) of various hearings on calendar. As of June 5, 2020, Long Beach, Hollywood, Inglewood, Stanley Mosk, and Pasadena Courthouses are physically up and running, but only for emergency matters, like restraining orders. The Clerk’s Office will reopen for regular matters on June 15, 2020, and court hearings are scheduled to resume on June 22, 2020.
The court’s new Here for You | Safe for You program has issued various guidelines to keep visitors safe. As might be expected from similar reopenings, these include wearing a mask or face covering at all times (though children age 3 and below, and people with documented medical exemptions and/or court-cleared disabilities are exempt from this requirement), and maintaining a six foot distance from non-household members. The court notice detailing the reopening also mentioned that visitors who remove their masks or face coverings while at the courthouse will be asked to put them back on. If they refuse to, they may be denied court services, have their hearings rescheduled, or asked to leave. If they refuse to leave the courthouse, they will be escorted out by the Sheriff’s Department. That said, the prospect of having their hearings rescheduled alone should be enough to convince people not to take their masks off, since rescheduling is generally associated with an additional wait time of at least one month (most likely several months). That’s not good for anyone who needs their court orders updated now, or as soon as immediately practicable. Court staff, too, will be donning masks; and courthouses have been decorated with posters reminding everyone of the new social distancing rules. Although the notice indicates that paper masks will be available for visitors at courthouse entrances, it does not specify whether visitors will have to pay for them, or what each court’s supply of them is like, so it would be best to bring your own mask.
Another change has to do with a visitor’s ability to simply walk into the courthouse (after passing the usual security check by the door) to conduct legal business. The court is now requiring visitors to make appointments for service, a measure intended to reduce the number of people at the courthouse, and so the risk of transmission. In other words, you can’t enter the Clerk’s Office or Self-Help Center without an appointment. You also can’t look at electronic records at the Clerk’s Office kiosks without a reservation. It’s worth noting, too, that the children’s waiting rooms are still closed, so arranging childcare before you go to court is advisable. That said, you’re not entirely out of options. You may file pleadings using the court’s File at Home form completion program or the physical dropbox on the courthouse steps (which is regularly checked by court staff); call the court clerks or self-help center for assistance; or consult with an attorney for more information.
Should I Get Divorced? (Coronavirus Edition)
For better or worse, the coronavirus pandemic has had the effect of putting various things into perspective. First, there’s the physical lockdown. You haven’t got anywhere else to go, so you’re always home. Second, there’s the increased time, whether it’s from lack of work or school, or your suddenly nonexistent commute. Both of these mean you’re probably spending more time than usual with your loved ones, or in your own head, which brings us to the third factor: if you knew you were going to die tomorrow—say, from COVID-19, or maybe just an unlucky car accident—would you spend today in the same way?
For some people, reduced work and school obligations, and more time with family has been a win-win situation. For others, this sudden closeness has cast light on previously buried problems. With no distractions, it’s hard to ignore your partner being more physically or emotionally distant than you remembered, or inexplicably taking his or her aggressions out on you, or teaching the kids a life lesson you disagree with. Is this the person you want to spend the rest of your life with? Have you grown further apart than you thought? Is this part of a larger pattern of disappointments?
Or, to play devil’s advocate, is it just a bad moment that you can work through together? Is there anything you can help your partner with, to lighten the load? After all, living together is a team sport, and no one player is perfect 100% of the time. Maybe something as simple as taking up a new hobby together can help relieve your partner’s pent-up stress. Maybe a couple of therapy sessions would be beneficial. Maybe one or both of you were laid off, and neither of you know how you’ll be supporting your family from here on out. That’d be enough to wear anyone out. Maybe you can look for assistance programs together.
Frankly, these are questions only you can answer. But, you’re not alone. Divorce rates tend to rise after epidemics force everyone indoors. For example, divorce filings in Wuhan, Xi’an, and Dazhou (cities in China) have backed up the courthouses there. Lawyers here in the United States are expecting a similar uptick in cases. Divorce attorneys are reporting increased phone consultations, with most anticipating an avalanche of work once the courts finally reopen. Pursuant to Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile’s April 10, 2020 order, the Los Angeles Superior Court is expected to reopen on June 10, with hearings resuming on June 22.
That said, the court is currently open for emergency business. If you need domestic violence restraining orders, you can still apply for and get them.
The controversial website AshleyMadison.com, known for catering to users who are already married, is reporting an increase in new users (more than one thousand per day) since the pandemic started. Unfortunately, even if your spouse cheats on you, you aren’t entitled to any legal relief under California divorce law. Either party can file for divorce, at any time, and for any reason. This is known as “irreconcilable differences.”
Also, since the coronavirus has sent the stock market and broader economy into a nosedive, now may be the right time to get divorced, especially if you’re the higher earning spouse. Since the values of community assets and debts are usually equally divided as of the date of separation, and the value of assets is lower at the moment, you might be able to settle for less than you would under normal conditions.
Still, every case’s facts are different, and divorce isn’t a decision to make lightly. If you have any questions about the legal part of the process, feel free to call our office at (562) 598-7486 for a free, fifteen-minute consultation.
Although the court self help centers are closed, help and further updates are available online at lacourt.org http://lacourt.org and the California courts Self help center https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp.htm
You can also call us at (562) 598-7486 for a free 15 minute consultation.
First; here is what can be done in court regarding family law cases given the new social distancing requirements
First don’t forget to look at Judge Riff’s statement below. Currently only requests for restraining orders and ex-parte (emergency! requests) will be heard right away by the LA family law courts, at least through June 22, and I suspect, even beyond this date. Even though your matter may not be heard for a long time, it is important to file a pleading. This is because the filing date, most often, is used by the court to set retroactivity of its order. So if you want support to go up or down, you do not want to wait until months have gone by to adjust an order that no longer reflects the economic circumstances of the parties. Otherwise, the court may not be able to help you to cover all the months that you should have been paying less or receiving more – depending on your position.
I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t also file a request for custody modification if warranted. It is likely that requests for custody modification will be heard in the order received – so if you are waiting for relative normalcy before filing – you will be behind everyone else.
Below is the latest as of 3/27/20 (I have updated as of 4/24)The Los Angeles County supervising judge of family law issued the guidance to family law attorneys which I have copied on the bottom of the page. Please go to thebeachlaw.com for help in dealing with family law issues brought about by this Corona virus or Covid-19 virus.
Stay healthy, Wash hands, Six feet distance,
Supervising Judge Riff information for LA County Family Law Attorneys
At Judge Brazile’s request, I will try to answer some of the many general process questions put to me privately and also posted on the LACBA list serve.
An overriding point: we all seek clarity and specificity in a time defined by their opposites, not just in court operations but in society overall.
There simply are not clear and specific answers at this time to many of the questions posed. This is because the overall situation is, of course, dynamic and evolving everywhere.
As you know and expect, Judge Brazile and the Work Group have a great deal on their plates as they plan, implement and communicate throughout the five divisions of our court. As banal as it may sound, I must continue to ask for your patience so that when Judge Brazile and I under his direction do communicate, the information is accurate.
Q: Big picture, where are we in the Family Law Division?
A: Our court is closed, including the FL Division, for all court proceedings except for specified time-sensitive, essential functions. In FL those are processing ex-parte applications; processing restraining order applications; conducting hearings on restraining orders; and conducting hearings in Hague convention international kidnapping matters. As you know, the court is strongly encouraging continuances in all hearings matters. And judicial officers may, considering the specifics of each individual case, continue such hearings without an agreement. We do not want people to be in court except as necessary to deal with time-sensitive, essential function matters.
Q: What is the duration of this court closure?
A: Currently, until April 16. (Now June 22)
Q: So on April 17, is it back to business as usual?
A: We all await further instruction from Judge Brazile on that point and be reassured it is a topmost matter for Judge Brazile and the Work Group.
Q: But doesn’t Judge Brazile’s March 23 General Order establish a further closure period to June 22?
A: Many of you read the order that way. Others read it that it suspends certain proceedings such as “civil non-jury trials” “until further notice”. The order does not state whether such further notice may occur before June 22 and I have no insight to share with you at this time on that point. The key point for now is that the court is closed, as described above, until April 16 and that more specificity as applies to family law will be forthcoming.
Q: I received a notice recently continuing a hearing set after April 17 to a later date. Doesn’t that mean that the period of court closure is extended past April 16?
A: No, it does not necessarily mean that. It means a determination was made in that case and in that department that the hearing should be continued in any event.
Q: Why can’t I reach the Judicial Assistant in my home court?
A: Because many home courts are closed and not staffed. Many staff are working remotely. Staff in courthouses are being deployed where needed.
Q: What are key things to know about filing via “drop box”?
A: Filings are dated as of the date the document is placed in the drop box. One can pay with a credit card and there are credit card “slips” available at the drop boxes.
Q: With the clerk’s office closed and access to the courthouses limited to authorized persons, how can I find out about continued dates in confidential parentage cases?
A: Persons calling the clerk’s office general number will, upon advising of a case number in a confidential parentage case, be advised of a continued hearing date.
Q: When “business as usual resumes”, whenever that will be, will RFOs, FCCRCs, trials, MSCs and all other matters proceed in the chronological order of filing or earlier settings?
A: Not necessarily. The job of “ramping up” the division after this ramp-down will be extremely complex and planning and decisions as to how that will proceed have not even begun. At that time, you can count on the my asking you for….patience.
The expression, “I want “full custody”,” is one of the most frequent requests I hear as a family law attorney from prospective clients. I’m not sure why this expression is so popular, as it is not used by California in defining the types of custody available. There are two types of custody in California; Legal and Physical. Each type of custody can be given jointly or solely to one parent. My assumption is, that when someone says they want full custody that this is a request for sole legal and physical custody with perhaps some visitation for the other parent.
Legal custody is the ability to make decisions for a child in regards to health, schooling, religion and the like. Normally the court awards this jointly to both parents. Under joint legal custody; if the parents cannot resolve a disagreement any other way, they must bring the matter back to court. and if the parents disagree about schooling, medical concerns etc
Sometimes, because one parent lives a great distance away, is incarcerated or normally makes decisions and behaves in a fashion the court finds is antipathetic to the childs interests, the court will award sole legal custody to the other parent.
Physical custody is normally defined as who the child lives with. If one parent has significant periods of custody then physical custody is usually joint. However this is not set in stone and a parent that has significant periods of custody may only be listed on the order as having visitation and conversely a parent listed on the order as having joint physical custody may in fact have limited visitation. The courts tend to go by the actual time the child spends with each parent rather then the “sole” or “label”.
Beginning in 2020 Domestic Partnerships in California are now available as an alternative to marriage to opposite sex couples. Previously, this was only available to same sex couples and only available to opposite sex couples over the age of sixty-two