Lamoreaux Justice Center
COVID 19 Update Judge Hurwitz – Family Law Bar
- Initially, some quotations from the court are noteworthy to appreciate the magnitude of the logistical challenges placed upon the court at this time: Presiding Judge Kirk H. Nakamura notes that the court, “(…) is faced with an unprecedented situation of balancing the rights of residents of Orange County to justice against the Emergency Orders of the President, Governor and the Orange County Department of Health outlining precautionary steps to minimize the danger of transmission of the virus.”
- Supervising Judge, Lon Hurwitz further explains to the Orange County Bar that, “While I know that there are cries/demands that the Court open up again, our Court leadership must decide whether the risk of the infection spreading is outweighed by our need to return to our normal routine. If we reopen too soon, thereby putting people in close proximity to each other on a daily basis, in direct contravention of what the science is telling us, then the risk is that, ultimately, the entire Court is shut down and NO business is done. This would be an existential threat to our democracy. This could become martial law.”
- Because of the Governor’s Orders to “Shelter in Place”, the majority of OC Court Staff is at home. The courts are not set up for staff to work remotely.
- Typically, there are 117 family law staff members at the court to help with the day-to-day operations of our family law justice system. Currently there is a skeleton staff of only 35 people.
What Can/Are the Courts Doing Today?
- The court is accepting filings of pleadings. Thus:
A party may file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (divorce), to get the 6 months waiting period started on having a party’s marital status changed to single.
A party may file a Motion or Request for Order to seek relief in respect to some issue such as a modification of child and/or spousal support. This is very important, because when the matter is finally heard by the court, the order (and change in support) will likely be retroactive to the filing date. It is also important, because when the court starts hearing matters sometime after June 1st, priority will likely be given to matters based upon the dates they were first filed.
Parties may file a stipulation to have their matter heard by a private judge. This will allow the proceedings to continue (via video conferencing systems), and private judges are ordinarily much faster and often save money over using the court provided judge. Thus, this is encouraged to decrease the burden on the court and benefit the parties.
- The Family Law Court is not conducting most hearings right now. Currently, the court website says that matters are being pushed back until at least June 1st.
- The court will accept Applications for Domestic Violence Restraining Orders and Request for Orders. Our discussions with the court clerk indicate that if the matter does not involve serious risk to one or more children, the court may not consider the Application.
It appears that the court will grant initiate (or deny) a temporary restraining order based upon the written pleadings alone, with no testimony. Regardless of whether the temporary order is granted or denied, at some point in the future, the court will conduct a further hearing where the parties will testify so that the court may determine whether to issue a “permanent” restraining order, or dismiss it. We don’t have a definitive answer as to when this in-person hearing will take place, but it presumably will be after June 1st. When the court does start to hear matters in person, Domestic Violence Restraining orders normally take precedence over most other matters, regardless of when they were filed.
The Civil Court is also available to handle in a similar manner, Applications for Civil Harassment Restraining Orders, which apply when the involved parties do not have a sufficient family or dating relationship to qualify for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order.