April 28, 2011

High Traffic in California Family Law Courts

Posted in Family Law tagged at 10:49 am by demetriagraves

California Family Courts deal with a huge volume of traffic every year. Just the Los Angeles Superior Court – Family Law handles 100,000 filings per year. This means that there are often inevitable delays. One way to smooth and speed the process is to ensure that you are represented by an experienced Family Law Attorney.

The high number of filings combined with the fact that a high percentage of litigants in family law are unrepresented, which means they don’t have an attorney. Many courts have adopted local rules and procedures in an attempt to more efficiently process the high volume of family law cases.

Because of the complexity of Family Court procedures, many parties who chose to represent themselves in their divorce or other family law proceedings make errors that negatively affects the outcome of their case.

The California Supreme Court found, in its landmark 2007 decision, Elkins v. Superior Court, that certain time-saving procedures, such as video testimony, deprive family law litigants of due process protections. Due process is the name given to the minimum “process” necessary to allow litigants to have a full and fair hearing of their issue.

In Elkins, the California Supreme Court, while sympathizing with the overworked family courts, noted the stakes in a family court case:

But family law litigants should not be subjected to second-class status or deprived of access to justice. It is at least as important that courts employ fair proceedings when the stakes involve a judgment providing for custody in the best interest of a child and governing a parent’s future involvement in his or her child’s life, dividing all of a family’s assets, or determining levels of spousal and child support.

Access to justice requires that parties be able to appropriately address the court and present their cases.The California Legislature responded to the Elkins case by passing Assembly Bills 939 and 1050. AB 939 ensures that parties in family courts will have the opportunity to testify in their case. AB 1050 requires that courts allow children age 14 and older to testify in cases affecting their custody or visitation.

Both acts by the legislature seem reasonable, and in view of the Elkins decision, are now required. But they both will come with a price. The effect of allowing more testimony in family court cases will be delay. The courts will have to allow more time for every case. Without the legislature significantly increasing funding for the family courts, schedules will stretch farther out and cases will take even longer to compete. With the budget crises affecting California, however, it seems very unlikely the courts will receive any additional money.

So this is why it’s important that if you are considering divorce, or have another family law issue that you consult with an experienced family law attorney. They can help you minimize the time it will take to obtain a dissolution judgment and make the process smoother and less frustrating. Not to mention, making sure that you get a more favorable outcome in your case.

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