How Courts “Dispose Of” Family Law Cases

The Judicial Council, the people who run our courts, stated in a recent year’s  statistics, that 139,846 California divorce cases were concluded, and that of these, 138,515 were disposed of before trial.  And how does that “disposed of” come about?  And why should you care?  Well, you are paying taxes to maintain this dysfunctional system.

First, a lawyer will ask for temporary orders, a court hearing probably in two parts at least, not counting the number of continuances that may occur.  Next, there are “discovery” procedures: interrogatories, depositions, motions to compel if the information is not forthcoming.  “Discovery” means finding out what’s there.

Note that the State of California requires that each person disclose to the other all income, all expenses, all assets and all debts, whether in one’s own name alone or with others, whether in someone else’s name for one’s own benefit, whether separate or community property.  The disclosure forms signature statement includes “…under penalty of perjury.”  There are severe penalties for not doing so.  Yet lawyers replicate this with their interrogatories and depositions asking for disclosure.

Requesting a court hearing for any orders entails a long wait– a “motion to compel discovery filed November 1, 2017, was set for March 2, 2018.  In another case, a Request for Orders (RFO)filed September 19, 2018, was set for mid-February 2019–a delay of five months.  And the purpose of an RFO is usually to get temporary orders for support, custody and visitation and possibly restraining orders.  However, in cases of domestic violence, one can get an immediate court hearing.

In a mediated case, the parties had one house, two children, three 401(k)s and support for stay-at-home-dad.  They started mediation in February, and by the end of April, the judgment of dissolution had been entered.  Wife said to me, when I told her that the typical litigated case takes at least two years, “ How can people stand the stress!?”

“Divorce is the most difficult experience a person goes through alive.  I often think that neurosurgeons have it easier because their patients are anesthetized.  I have to keep clients not only conscious, but functioning.”
Ira Lurvey, Los Angeles family lawyer, quoted in The Divorce Lawyers by Emily Couric

“Settlements and stipulations in family-law cases will govern the day-to-day lives of the parties for years to come, yet they are often drafted with far less care and precision than is given an equipment lease.”
Justice David G. Sills, 4th District Court of Appeal, in granting a motion to correct a flawed divorce agreement.

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