Orange County Court Update for Family Law Matters

Stage 2 of COVID-19 OC Family Law Court Closure

On May 26, 2020, the Superior Court of California, County of Orange reopened after its over two-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  During the Court’s closure time, the Family Law Court had over 9,000 matters rescheduled for Status Conferences and/or Voluntary Settlement Conferences and received over 9,000 filings submitted to the Clerks.  From March 17, 2020 until the Court’s reopening, the Court had been closed except for limited circumstances for:

  • Ex Parte Domestic Violence Restraining Orders and
  • Ex Parte Request for Orders for matters regarding risk of serious harm/injury or death of a child.

Given the unprecedented nature of this time, the Court continued to update the rules and policies that are followed during this time.  While Family Law Court is not the only Court that has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 Court Closures.  However, the Family Law Court will likely be the Court to continue to see the most prolonged impact.  Due to the Criminal Law backlog of cases and hearings, court resources such as bailiffs, clerks, and even judicial officers are being reassigned to hear these matters.  On May 14, 2020 and June 16, 2020, the Presiding Judge Kirk H. Nakamura issued ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER NO. 20/15 and REVISED ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER NO. 20/15, wherein the protocols for Family Law Trials, Hearings, and Proceedings were updated.

Currently, hearings will be conducted remotely and limited to a hearings that can be conducted in an expedited manner.  In Person Hearings can be requested, but a showing of good cause must be made.  The REVISED ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER NO. 20/15 removed the prior two-hour time frame – one hour per side – limitation.  However, the revised Administrative Order still references that the calendar preference is for short cause matters until the backlog of matters is address.  Each judicial officer has a differing view of what constitutes a short vs. long cause matter; however, California Rules of Court 5.393 defines a long cause hearing “as a hearing on a request for order that extends more than a single court day.” This modification from the May 14, 2020 Administrative Order opens the possibility of more cases being heard via remote hearings during this time.

The calendar preference and selection of matters for remote hearing will be based on the Court’s determination of which hearings they believe would be conducive to a remote hearing and resolution.  Factors that assist with determining whether a matter is conducive to this comes from the time estimates provided by the parties and counsel, as well as the judicial officers knowledge of the case and issues to be heard.

For remote hearings, there is a limitation on the exhibits each side can present.  Specifically, each side is limited to fifteen (15) exhibits which must be exchanged and emailed to the Court 72 hours in advance of the remote hearing.  Additionally, each courtroom will have protocols for remote hearings.

Judge Carol L. Henson and Commissioner William G. Watson handle the domestic violence calendar and have issued Rules for Advanced and In Court Domestic Violence Hearings for matter being heard in their Court.  At the commencement of the Court’s reopening, there were approximately 500 self-represented domestic violence cases pending.  Domestic Violence matters that do not have attorneys will be heard in court using these protocols.  The Court had initially stated that the self-represented domestic violence cases would be heard first, but has since made known that there is no prioritization of pro per or attorney cases but rather the Court and its Judicial Officers are engaging in a triage of cases to ensure matters are heard and solved as best as possible.

Therefore, while Family Law Court reopened on May 26, 2020 and hearings commenced on June 1, 2020, it is not normal business as usual.  The Court and life continue to be impacted by COVID-19.  In fact, some Court staff had to quarantine shortly after reopening due to a COVID positive test among their staff.  As can be seen, we are far from in the clear and back to normal life.  Therefore, just as the Court continues to work on policies and procedures to adapt to work during COVID-19, it is vital that any person with a family law matter continue to adapt and find ways to address the issues that your case may bring you.  This may be working on mediation or settlement to resolve all issues or at least minimize issues so your matter may be conducive for a remote hearing.

If you have been selected for a remote evidentiary hearing, make sure to familiarize yourself with the remote program being used for the hearing (Teams, WebEx, Court Call, or Conference Call) deadlines and protocols for the hearing and any specific requirements your judicial officer may have for remote hearings being heard in his/her department.  If you have not been selected for a remote hearing, you should look into the alternative options available such as Voluntary Settlement Conferences (VSC), Private Judging, Mediations, and Settlement Meetings.

If you would like to discuss your case or how Moore Law for Children can assist you in your Family Law matter, please give us a call at 949-336-7711.

Please use the below links to read the orders and protocols discussed above:

To find a list of the policies and procedures regarding remote hearings for your specific judicial officer, please visit https://www.occourts.org/directory/family/RemoteHearingRules.html.

Revised Administrative Order No. 20/15:

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/Revised_Administrative_Order_20_15_Mandating_Remote_Hearings.pdf

Administrative Order No. 20/15:

http://occourts.org/media-relations/covid/20_15_Family_Law_Mandating_Remote_Hearings.pdf

Family Law Mandatory Remote Hearing Protocol for Submitting Exhibits:

https://www.occourts.org/media-relations/covid/FamilyLawRemoteHearingsExhibitProtocol.pdf

Rules for Advanced and In Court Domestic Violence Hearings (Departments L-11 and L-63):

http://occourts.org/media-relations/covid/Rules_for_Advanced_and_In_Person_Domestic_Violence_Hearings_Protocol.pdf

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