On April 1, the Orange County Superior Court issued Special Administrative Order 3 which said the current Covid 19 stay-at-home orders are NOT a valid excuse to ignore or change custody and visitation orders or limit access to children. Apparently, some parents were using C-19 as an excuse to deny visitation, claiming that stay-at-home orders were the equivalent of summer vacation or using other excuses to limit access. So the Supervising Judge of the Orange County Superior Court specifically ordered that stay-at-home orders are not summer vacation and custody orders were to continue as if nothing had changed.
Neither Los Angeles nor Ventura county courts issued similar orders. While the LA courts remain closed to the public for everything except extreme emergencies, 90% of the staff is working remotely, so petitions, pleadings and stipulations can still be filed. However, Ventura and Orange County Courts remain closed for everything except domestic violence restraining orders.
Ventura Courts do plan to reopen on June 8th, and Los Angeles courts plan to reopen the Clerk’s office on June 15th in preparation for their courtrooms reopening on the 22nd, but it is unlikely that anything is going to be as before.
Los Angeles has announced that they are currently categorizing the nearly 40,000 matters they have on calendar into 4 priority classes. When the courts re-open, they’ll only hear “Category 1” matters which are deemed most urgent and will likely still be restricted to DV restraining orders. Category 2 will include initial custody and support orders, and Category 3 will include modifications to prior orders. Category 4 is the lowest priority, which will include long cause trials. With family law judges currently being trained to handle the backlog in the criminal courts, it is unlikely that anyone will get a family law trial date until 2021 or 2022.
Access to family courts in California has always been a problem. The courts have been backlogged for years, and while some of the reforms have helped, none have alleviated the problem. Now, access is worse and is unlikely to improve for the foreseeable future. But the Collaborative Law Process offers an alternative where the parties work with a team of professionals to reach agreement on all the issues which can be entered as a final judgment without ever stepping foot in a courthouse. Click here for more information.