While the situation is fluid and changing on a daily (sometimes, even hourly) basis, we want to provide you with an update on the state of family law in the Los Angeles County superior courts, as of April 28, 2020.
On March 23, 2020, Los Angeles County Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile issued General Order 006, which limited the courts to certain “essential” functions. For purposes of family law, these essential functions relate to ex-parte applications, restraining orders, and international kidnappings. On April 14, 2020, Judge Brazile issued another General Order extending this period of limited court function through Tuesday, May 12, 2020. This window may be extended yet further, as the courts attempt to accommodate local, state, and federal health directives. Currently, the tentative date on which standard court functions are expected to resume is June 22, 2020, although that is subject to change. Should courts resume their full calendars at that time, it is likely that certain behavioral rules will be implemented to allow for social distancing.
The Los Angeles Superior Courts have also adopted a series of Emergency California Rules of Court. Of particular relevance to those of us in the family law space are Rules 3, 8, 11, and 12.
Rule 3 relates to the use of technology for remote appearances and empowers the Court to mandate that judicial proceedings and court operations be conducted electronically. This includes things like mandatory exchange of authentication of documentary evidence and e-filing and e-service. Several counties, including Los Angeles County, have established email addresses at which ex partes may be filed directly. A full list of these emails, arranged by courthouse, can be found here.
Under Rule 8, any restraining or protective order that is set to expire during the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic may be extended for up to 90 days from the date of expiration so that the protected party may seek a renewal of the order.
According to Rule 11, either party can elect that a deponent appear remotely.
Rule 12 requires that parties represented by counsel who have made an appearance (i.e. filed paperwork with or appeared in front of the court) must accept electronic service of any document or notice that could otherwise be served by mail or fax. It is the responsibility of the serving party to confirm, by phone or email, the appropriate electronic service address for the opposing counsel being served. Electronic service is permissible on a self-represented party only when that party’s consent is first obtained in writing.
Rule 13 facilitates changes to existing support orders while the courts are operating in a limited capacity by allowing Judges to backdate support orders, if they so choose, to the date on which the order was served on the opposing party. Prior to the adoption of this emergency rule, such orders could only be backdated to the date on which the modification request was filed with the court. The rule aims to both accommodate any COVID-19-related filing delays and account for income loss nearest the moment of the loss itself.
These Emergency Rules will remain in effect until repealed by the Judicial Council, or, until 90 days following a declaration from Governor Newsom that the current state of emergency is over.
While it may not seem like it now, a return to “normal” is forthcoming. When courts begin hearing non-emergency matters again, they will do so according to the urgency of subject matter. For example, matters involving physical safety, food, and shelter would take precedence. Court staff is currently categorizing all existing and incoming matters. Once they do so, they will notify our office of the new hearing date. It is our understanding from the courts that this categorization and notification process will likely take several weeks.