Senate Bill 917 Requiring Court Clerks to Prepare Orders after Hearings for All Litigants in Family Law Hearings
Senate Bill 917 was introduced on January 27 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to ensure Family Courts provide clear, timely, written orders to litigants. The bill attempts to address concerns raised by the observation that many Family Law litigants are self-represented and often English learners, struggling to comprehend, let alone comply with spoken orders. While the bill targets implementation by July 1, 2017, this date remains uncertain because of its predicted cost.
As of the writing of this article, it provides as follows:
(a) Unless a shorter time period is provided by another statute, beginning July 1, 2017, within two court days after the conclusion of a hearing conducted pursuant to this code, the court shall make available to each party who is present at the hearing a written, detailed, official order setting forth the basic terms of any orders that were made in open court during the hearing. The order may be made available electronically. To the extent practicable, the court shall provide the order, in writing, to each party present at the hearing prior to the party leaving the court that day.
(b) This section does not require the court to prepare or provide a judgment of dissolution, legal separation, nullity, or parentage.
(c) This section is not intended to impact the law governing statements of decisions.
(d) This section does not preclude the court from requiring the parties or counsel to prepare an order, or accepting proposed orders or stipulations for orders from the parties or counsel at the time of the hearing. The court may, after providing the order described in subdivision (a), permit parties or counsel to submit more detailed orders after the hearing.
(e) On or before July 1, 2017, the Judicial Council shall adopt a rule of court and any forms necessary to implement this section.
The legislative analysis of the bill notes that, “In most counties, courts have attempted to distribute the impact of the budget cuts by reducing funding across the board. In no area have the cuts been felt more deeply than in the area of family law, which has traditionally been underfunded and where the vast majority of litigants are self-represented. Such self-represented litigants are disproportionately affected by the lack of resources, especially court reporters. Without a record, these parties struggle to understand the specifics of orders, often made verbally in court.” (Sen. Judiciary Com., Rep. on Sen. Bill No. 917 (2016-2017 Reg. Sess.) March 30, 2016, p. 1-2.)
The bill passed the Senate 39-0 and was referred to the Assembly on June 2. The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved the bill 10-0 and referred it to the Appropriations Committee on June 28. It has remained as the bill’s cost (stated only as “many millions” in the legislative reports) is an issue.
Locally, if this bill is signed into law as an unfunded or under-funded mandate, case volume might well be reduced. According to Family Law Supervising Judge Christopher R. Bowen, the volume of cases addressed by our courts could be cut in half, if the legislature passes down the written order requirement without increasing funding for personnel and resources to provide the two-court-day turn around for written orders.