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Responding to Recent Changes in Family Law

August 31, 2011

Part 3 in an ongoing series: Managing New Challenges in California Family Law Disputes

In response to the recent changes in family law cases, many of my colleagues are concerned about how their clients are going to get their day in court if they are required to bring witnesses and present live testimony. At the same time, some family law attorneys feel that presenting live testimony is a very important matter. It may be that their client would like to be heard on a particular issue, or have a witness testify on their behalf. Many clients do not want bench officers to simply talk to the lawyers in chambers and then come out with a ruling, because the clients then feel as if they have not had their day in court. Therefore, it seems that attorneys are responding to these changes with mixed emotions. Some lawyers feel that the trend toward becoming more evidentiary with respect to family law matters is a positive development, while others feel that while introducing more evidence may be great in theory, it remains to be seen how it is going to work in practice when court staffing in California has been reduced by well over one hundred people, and the state government has closed many family law courts.

Personally, I do not know if most clients fully understand the dynamics of having their day in court, unless they already have experience in that area. They may think that going to court will be like taking part in a Perry Mason case–and then they are surprised when they realize that they have not been able to, talk to a judge at all, or for only two minutes. Therefore, it is likely that they will view the new developments in this area somewhat favorably, but they are also going to have to pay more for the benefit of being able to go to court. Ultimately, I do not view the new evidentiary requirements as necessarily being a positive development in family law matters when, again, there is the potential that courtrooms will not even be available to try these cases.

-Joseph P. Spirito Jr. is a partner at McGaughey & Spirito. He has been in private practice in Los Angeles area since 1982. He is currently serving on the executive committee of the Los Angles County Bar’s family law section and is A Better Divorce Collaborative Law Group – Co-Founder and President

This article was first published in STRATEGIES FOR FAMILY LAW 20th EDITION

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