Expedited Custody and Visitation Orders in Family Court
Family Court cases often involve emotional disagreements over how parents are going to split parenting duties – Will custody be shared? If not, who has custody? What schedule will the parents and children follow from day to day? Who will be responsible for dropping them off at school? How much vacation time will mom have during the summer? If parents cannot agree on the answers to these questions, either party to a Family Court case may ask that the Family Court judge have the final say: custody and visitation orders that become the “law of the case.”
The process of defining the law of the case requires a party to ask for a hearing by filing a Request for Order (FL-300) and supporting evidence with the Court (declarations, exhibits, etc.). Between the time you file your initial Request for Order (form FL-300) asking the Family Court judge to make orders for the custody and visitation of your child, attending Family Court Services mediation, and when you appear before a judge typically takes two or more months. Family Court here in San Diego deals with a very high case load, which results in busy court calendars and long wait times.
The above questions about custody/visitation are very important questions to answer, but do not necessarily need to be decided on an expedited basis – usually parents can come to some sort of arrangement between the time the Request for Order is filed and the time of the court hearing (although sometimes not).
There are ways to expedite the process, however, for when a custody and visitation decision must be made by the Family Court judge in a shorter time frame than the typical two months.
Ex Parte Custody and Visitation Orders
A party may appear “ex parte,” which loosely means in the case of an emergency. California Rules of Court, Rule 5.151, states that a party may schedule an ex parte hearing requesting orders to “prevent an immediate danger or irreparable harm to . . . the children in the matter.” The matter is heard and decided within 24 or 48 hours of submitting the paperwork, and a review hearing is set. The goal is to immediately protect the health and safety of the child.
The quoted language is important – the person asking for the orders must show immediate danger or irreparable harm will occur if the orders are not made. This is a high bar, usually reserved for situations in which the child’s health and safety is concerned. For example, if one parent is dealing with substance abuse in a manner that endangers the child. Alternatively, emergency custody and visitation orders are typically not appropriate if parents disagree as to whether there should be an order that the child’s Christmas vacation schedule should be changed.
Orders Shortening Time
In a case where there is no immediate danger or irreparable harm that will occur to the child, but where the impact to the child is still significant, a party can ask the Family Court judge to “shorten time” until a court date. For example, if a parent is notified of a family reunion in one month but the current visitation schedule doesn’t permit the child to attend, that might be an important reason to ask the Court for a decision on the matter. Family reunions are important and special events and judges recognize their benefit to children.
In this case, if no agreement is possible, a parent might ask the Court for an “Order Shortening Time.” This requires the parent to prepare the Request for Order and submit it through the above-mentioned ex parte process. Instead of deciding whether to allow the child to attend the reunion within 24 or 48 hours, the Family Court judge has the authority to set a hearing date as soon as the calendar permits under the circumstances. In this way, a parent might be able to schedule a hearing before the family reunion occurs.
These are some tools to use when asking the Family Court judge to make custody and visitation decisions. If you have questions about your custody and visitation case, contact Scott & Matteson Family Law by calling (858) 974-4900.