FAMILY LAW COURTS CLOSING ALL OVER CALIFORNIA

Leave a comment

Completing a divorce has never been tougher in California.  It’s not because the laws have changed, or other legal obstacles or impediments have sprung up to discourage married couples from parting their ways.  It’s simply about money and the fact California, like every other state in our union, is experiencing a budget crisis.

The latest casualty to divorce court is the Los Angeles Superior Court which announced last week that it will reduce its staff by nearly 350 workers, close 56 courtrooms, and reduce its use of court reporters.  It is the most significant reduction of services in the history of the Los Angeles court system.

One of the major problems is that while courts are reducing their staffs, case filings continue to increase.  This will create incredible pressures on the courts, family law and otherwise, to keep up with their workload

The judicial branch’s budget, which represents nearly three (3) percent of California’s budget, has seen nearly a thirty (30) percent overall reduction since 2008.  The $350 billion budget reduction, passed by the California Legislature and approved by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, is the deepest reduction in state court history.

In Los Angeles, of the fifty-six (56) courtrooms that will be closed, three deal with family law.  As is the case here in Ventura, the caseloads of those courtrooms will be distributed among the remaining courtrooms.  Self-help and family law assistance services also have been reduced or closed in courts throughout the state, which can only be bad news for those trying to move forward in their lives through divorce court.

DRUG AND ALCOHOL TESTING IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES

Leave a comment

One of the major issues dealt with in family courts regarding child custody is when one parent alleges drug abuse against the other.  When such allegations arise, it is important to know that all California family law courts have the discretion to order drug tests when a parent has a history of illegal drug use.

Specifically, when dealing with custody issues, family law courts are concerned with determining what is in the child’s best interests.  Thus, per Family Code §3011 (d), the courts will consider whether either parent has a habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances or continual abuse of alcohol.

Before the court considers allegations of a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse, it may require independent corroboration such as written reports from law enforcement agencies, courts, probation departments, social welfare agencies, medical and rehabilitation facilities, or other organizations providing drug and alcohol abuse services.  When the court finds the grounds appropriate, it may order a parent to be tested for either drug use or alcohol abuse.

The California Legislature has found the need to provide procedural and substantive guidelines regarding drug testing.  Family Code §3041.5 dictates the following:

a)      In any custody or visitation proceeding brought under this part, as described in section 3021, or any guardianship proceeding brought under the Probate Code, the court may order any person who is seeking custody of, or visitation with, a child who is the subject of a proceeding to undergo testing for the illegal use of controlled substances and the use of alcohol if there is a judicial determination based upon a preponderance of evidence that there is the habitual, frequent, or continual illegal use of controlled substances or the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol by the parent, legal custodian, person seeking guardianship, or person seeking visitation in a guardianship.  This evidence may include, but may not be limited to, a conviction within the last five years for the illegal use or possession of a controlled substance.  The court shall order the least intrusive method of testing for the illegal use of controlled substance or the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol by either or both parents, the legal custodian, person seeking guardianship, or the person seeking visitation.  If substance abuse testing is ordered by the court, the testing shall be performed in conformance with procedures and standards established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services for drug testing of federal employees.

Be aware that California case law dictates that hair follicle testing is not permitted in connection with custody disputes, because only urine tests are used to test federal employees.  Thus, urinalysis is all that can be ordered, no matter how much more scientifically sensitive hair or hair follicle testing might be, or how much more convenient (and sensitive) the use of a sweat patch might be.

SPOUSAL SUPPORT AND YOUR RETIREMENT

Leave a comment

When it comes to dealing with retirement issues regarding spousal support, it could be crucial to understand what the case of In the Marriage of Olsen (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 1 stands for.  In Olsen, the California Appellate Court stated that the trial courts have broad discretion to consider unwithdrawn retirement contributions and accruals as available for the setting of spousal support.

However, the justices in Olsen admonished that the trial court must give consideration to the dual but possibly conflicting public policies of awarding spousal support where appropriate and of encouraging citizens to save for their retirement.  The Olsen court concluded that trial courts possess broad discretion when setting or modifying permanent spousal support about whether to consider as income contributions to individual retirement plans and accruals not withdrawn.  The Olsen court stated it is easy to foresee cases where contributions and accruals are best not considered as income available to pay permanent spousal support.

In the case of In Re Marriage of Reynolds (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1373, the court held that a payor husband who had reached the retirement age of 65 and was between 59½ and 70½ during which time he could withdraw funds from his IRA without penalty, could only consider investment income, not investment principal, as available to pay spousal support.

FAMILY LAW ATTORNEYS USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS EVIDENCE

1 Comment

Beware of the photos and information one places on Facebook and other social media sites.  It can come back to haunt you when it comes time to deal with divorce, custody, or other family law matters.

According to recently released statistics, more and more family law attorneys are venturing to social media sites to gather evidence for divorce, custody, and other family law matters.  That’s because sixty-five (65) percent of adults – and eighty-nine (89) percent of those adults under thirty (30) years of age – use social media sites.

For many attorneys in the family law business, the Internet has become the go-to place to assemble incriminating evidence.  Social media posts tend to provide the who, what, when, where, and why of a persons personal background.  There are over 845 million Facebook users who post an average of 70 pieces of content per month.  This includes photographs, videos, contact information, network of friends, conversations, locations, interests, and daily routines.

Some family law attorneys have utilized this plethora of personal information to reveal an opposing party’s state of mind, evidence of time and place or actions, and to validate and corroborate communications.  Decisions handed down by courts across the country have affected how evidence from social media sites can be admissible in court.  Decisions have held, among other things, that there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy on Facebook, that divorcing parties can be ordered to hand over social networking site passwords, user names and logins, and that divorcing parties may be granted full access, including private and deleted data, to Facebook and MySpace.

So divorcing parties or couples caught in custody disputes might want to think twice next time before posting those belly dancing videos or heavy partying photos on their social media sites.

VENTURA COUNTY TO CLOSE EAST COUNTY COURT TO FAMILY LAW MATTERS

Leave a comment

As reported by the Ventura County Star, the already congested Ventura County Family Law Courthouse is going to soon become even more crowded.  That’s because, due to Governor Jerry Brown’s state budget cuts, The East County Courthouse in Simi Valley, which handles a major load of family law matters, is set to close its doors by the end of June, unless more money is funneled to the Ventura County Superior Court via Sacramento.

It’s expected that employees will also be laid off as a result of the closure.  This promises to not only be an inconvenience to those from the east end of the county who will now have to travel to Ventura, but for the Ventura Superior Courts as well, in that the already crowded 3rd floor will become even more crowded with the additional family law case load.

However, Ventura County officials remain hopeful of reopening the Simi Valley Courthouse when Gov. Brown revises his budget this May.  Courts throughout the state are all hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst.  Due to budget cuts the last several years, California’s county courts have been forced to operate with less money.

In an effort to save money, Ventura County Superior Courts have decided to operate solely under one roof.  Ventura’s Superior Court has been forced to plan for the worst-case scenario.  That’s why all civil cases from the east county, which include family law, landlord-tenant, traffic matters and small claims cases, will have to come to Ventura.

There is presently only one commissioner and one part-time commissioner hearing matters at the East County Courthouse.  There are 29 judges and four commissioners handling matters in the Ventura County Superior Court.