Family Law Courts Affected by Emergency
In California, family law means court cases about divorce, including child custody, child support, spousal support, property division and domestic violence. It also means other cases involving those issues like paternity cases, which are cases between people who had at least one child between them but were never married. There are also domestic violence stand-alone cases where people who have never been married or even had children with each other can get relief from the courts because of a dating relationship or a family relationship or something similar.
With more and more of our institutions shutting down due to the national Corona virus, will you have access to the courts when you need them the most? Certainly, an argument over who gets the furniture is not a crisis, but domestic violence is and so is accurate payment of child and spousal support. One advantage that family law has over other types of cases is that we do not have juries. Courts are most worried about jury pools congregating in one place. A jury pool is a group of jurors being considered for a 12 person panel. Obviously, more people than the number of jury slots to be filled are necessary so that the most qualified jurors get chosen.
This has caused delays, at least here in San Diego County, with the scheduling of civil trials. But family law matters require just the two sides and the judge, plus staff. And more and more judges –even without a health crisis—are letting parties appear via speakerphone so as to avoid the inconvenience of traffic, time and other issues. So without juries and with the speakerphone, the show will hopefully go on. Plus people can still file or submit papers for future hearings. And judges can sign orders and judgments and send them out through their assistants via the mail, email, or fax.
But, we just got the word: in San Diego County, all “non-emergency services” will be suspended at the San Diego County Superior Court effective March 17 till April 3 in family law matters. This means all family court departments will be closed; all famiy court counseling and mediation matters will be rescheduled; the Family Law Facilitator’s office will be closed to the public; all clinics and workshops have been cancelled; and all family support matters will be rescheduled. There will be an “emergency” family law judge at each courthouse to handle just that — emergencies, i.e., those matters involving requests for temporary restraining orders and guardianship requests where a minor’s safety is at risk.
Making the matter more complicated is that each county in California has its own presiding judge and other judges who make up the managing team and their decision may be different than judges in another county. In a state this geographically large, there are bound to be differences between what one county does versus another. If you have questions, you can usually look at a court’s web site and, once there, find a number to call.
What we do know is that the Riverside County Superior Court has postponed all but the most urgent family law matters to March 31, 2020. And back here in San Diego, the Probate Division — which handles things like wills, trusts, conservatorships, and guardianships– is going to shut down through April 5, 2020.
This is a stressful time, and family law often has to do with people experiencing stress. Do what you need to do even during this uncertain times. Some matters have deadlines or consequences for doing things too late, so if the courthouse near you is open, although that would be the exception, be sure to find a way to get your papers submitted or filed on time. If you are here in San Diego County, you can email the Court at FAM@SDCOURT.CAL.GOV.
Things may change on a daily basis, so be sure to stay tuned for more news. At the Law Offices of Andy Cook, which remains open during the crisis, and throughout the world, we’ll all be glad when our lives get back to normal.