Family Law Perspective

Family Law Perspective

The year 2018 has been one of change in the Family Law Division. Change in the Bench officers. Change in the Local Rules of Court. Change in courthouses. And, a seismic shift in how child custody mediation is conducted. We welcomed three judges to Family Law this year—Judges Joni Hiramoto, John Laettner, and Danielle Douglas. We said goodbye to Judges Christopher Bowen, Leslie Landau, and Anita Santos. We also welcomed Courtney O’Hagan as the Family Court Facilitator and James Paulsen as the Director of Family Law and Probate. James Paulsen has taken over for Magda Lopez who retired in October. Happy travels Magda!

Mid-year, all family law matters returned to Martinez. This move was necessary to economize family law resources. We all recognize that for some litigants, Pittsburg was much more accessible to them than Martinez. However, behind the scenes, all the family law files, pleadings, judgments to be processed, and the vast majority of DVRO and ex parte requests, came from Martinez and had to be transported back and forth between the two cities. Legal clerks, technicians, and facilitators all had to be rotated between Martinez and Pittsburg and by mid-2018, it became unsustainable to have family law departments in Pittsburg. Judges John Cope and Brian Haynes were good sports about the change and now hold court in the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse.

Speaking of the judges, Judge Cope is finishing out his third year in Family Law. Judge Haynes is finishing up his second year in Family Law. Our newer judges, Judge Hiramoto, Judge Laettner, and Judge Douglas, have had to hit the ground running since the Court adopted Tiered Custody Mediation a mere two months into their family law assignment. Commissioner Murphy continues to preside over child support cases involving the Department of Child Support Services.

By far the biggest change this year has been the move to the Tiered Mediation model in child custody matters. Under this model, which two Supreme Court commissions have recommended, every litigant desiring child custody orders attends confidential mediation. If the parties reach agreement on custody issues, that agreement becomes the custody order. If they do not (aka NAR), then there are no recommendations by the mediator and the litigants submit the issue to the judges. We all received training from the Family Court Services staff, and their counterparts in Fresno County, which piloted the model back in 2013. Now five months into the change, we do spend a lot more time on custody issues, however, litigants leave court with custody orders much the same as the ones they would have received under the recommending mediation model. We are grateful to the members of the Family Law Section of the Contra Costa County Bar Association for their cooperation in this transition.

A further change occurred in July when departments started having court reporters part of the time. In response to the California Supreme Court’s decision in Jameson v. Desta, 5 Cal. 5th 594, departments usually have a court reporter for self-represented litigant days and for domestic violence restraining order matters, at least, in those cases with a fee waiver.

All of these changes have dramatically affected the Family Law Clerk’s Office, the Family Law Facilitators, and the Family Court Services Mediators. It has been an exciting year to supervise Family Law. I have learned so much about the operations of Family Law and have loved working with all of the various people who make it all happen. I will miss supervising but understand that rotations are a part of the life of a judicial officer. At least I will remain here another year to maintain some continuity. It has been said before, and I agree, we are family over here in the Family Law Division. We could not have adapted to all of the 2018 changes without a great deal of team work. I am proud to be a member of this winning team.