BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                             Senator Ricardo Lara, Chair
                            2015 - 2016  Regular  Session

          SB 917 (Jackson) - Family law:  court orders
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          |Version: March 30, 2016         |Policy Vote: JUD. 6 - 0         |
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          |Urgency: No                     |Mandate: No                     |
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          |Hearing Date: April 25, 2016    |Consultant: Jolie Onodera       |
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          This bill meets the criteria for referral to the Suspense File.

          Summary:  SB 917 would require the court, at the conclusion of  
          any family law hearing, to provide the parties with a written  
          order setting forth the basic terms of any orders made in open  
          court during that hearing, and would additionally require the  
          Judicial Council to adopt a rule of court and any forms  
          necessary to implement the provisions of the bill by January 1,  

          Impact:  Major costs, potentially in the millions of dollars  
          (General Fund*) for case management systems and system upgrades  
          in order to enable the trial courts to provide a written order  
          at the conclusion of each family law hearing. Although a few  
          courts provide access to a copy of orders within one day, it is  
          not known if there are any courts that currently comply with the  
          requirements specified in this the bill. Given the 58 counties  


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          likely employ different systems for conducting family law  
          proceedings, costs for compliance could vary widely.
           *Trial Court Trust Fund

          Background:  Existing law authorizes a court to prepare an order after a  
          hearing and serve copies on the parties or their attorneys or  
          order a party to prepare an order. Alternatively, the court may  
          order one of the parties or attorneys to prepare the proposed  
          order as provided in the rules of court. Under existing law,  
          timelines and procedures for the preparation and service of  
          orders are provided but additionally authorize courts to modify  
          those timelines or procedures when appropriate to the case.  
          (California Rules of Court, rule 5.125.)
          As described in the Senate Committee on Judiciary analysis of  
          this measure:

            Procedures and timelines in California courts vary  
            significantly from county to county because of geography,  
            funding, local practices, and the unique needs of different  
            populations. In some counties (e.g., Fresno, Sacramento,  
            Ventura, and Santa Barbara) litigants have access to a copy  
            of orders that same day, while in other counties it may  
            take weeks before a party receives a written order in the  
            mail. Orders given verbally in court (i.e., custody and  
            visitation orders) have immediate effect, meaning any delay  
            in receiving a copy of that order increases the chance that  
            parties will be unclear to the specifics of the order they  
            are legally obligated to follow.

            Staff notes that parties who receive written orders in a  
            timely manner may benefit from the aid of law enforcement  
            in the enforcing of those orders. For many families, when  
            one parent refuses to abide by a court's visitation or  
            custody order, the immediate solution available is to call  
            on law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of that  
            order. Without a written order, law enforcement cannot  
            help, and the parent's only legal recourse is to wait for  
            another court date. In many cases, the parent feels as  
            though any delay will put their child at risk of  
            maltreatment or abduction.


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            By many estimates, nearly 80 percent of family law  
            litigants appear in court without the representation of an  
            attorney. These self-represented litigants, or pro pers,  
            are disproportionately affected by any delays in receiving  
            orders from the court. Represented litigants have counsel  
            that often insist on court reporters, at the litigants'  
            expense, to ensure that there is a record for clarity's  
            sake. Represented litigants also have an attorney with whom  
            they can debrief after hearings to address any questions or  

          This bill seeks to ensure that all litigants are afforded the  
          opportunity and ability to understand and adhere to orders made  
          at family law hearings in a timely manner.

          Proposed Law:  
           This bill would require the court, at the conclusion of a  
          hearing conducted pursuant to the Family Code, to provide each  
          party present at the hearing with a written order setting forth  
          the basic terms of any orders that were made in open court  
          during the hearing. Additionally, this bill:
                 Provides this section does not require the court to  
               prepare or provide a judgment of dissolution, legal  
               separation, nullity, or parentage.
                 Provides this section is not intended to impact the law  
               governing statements of decisions. 
                 Provides this section does not preclude the court from  
               requiring 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. 
                 Provides the court may, after providing the written  
               order, permit parties or counsel to submit more detailed  
               orders after the hearing. 
                 Requires, on or before July 1, 2018, the Judicial  
               Council to adopt a rule of court or any forms necessary to  
               implement this section.

          Legislation:  AB 1834 (Wagner) 2016 would allow a court to use  
          electronic recording equipment in a family law case if an  
          official reporter or an official reporter pro tempore is  
          unavailable. This bill is pending hearing in the Assembly  


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          Judiciary Committee.
          Prior Legislation:  AB 2089 (Quirk) Chapter 635/2014 made  
          various changes to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act,  
          including requiring the court to provide a brief statement of  
          the reasons for its denial of a restraining order either in  
          writing or on the record. 

          Comments:  By requiring the provision of a written order at the  
          conclusion of a family law hearing to each party, this bill  
          could potentially require the courts to incur significant costs  
          to make modifications to existing systems in order to provide  
          this service in the manner specified in the bill. Because courts  
          are administered at the county level, there are 58 different  
          systems conducting family law proceedings, and while the bill  
          does not mandate a uniform statewide process to implement the  
          bill's provisions, the costs for each county's courts to comply  
          would likely vary widely.
          As an example of one innovative court process, Sacramento County  
          has implemented a Five-Minute Findings and Orders After Hearing  
          (FOAH) program enabling litigants, including self-represented  
          litigants, to receive orders online on the same day as the  
          hearing, sometimes within minutes of the conclusion of the  
          hearing. The FOAH program requires parties to obtain a secure  
          log-in password from the court clerk to enable access to the  
          applicable account and copy of the order. The FOAH program,  
          however, is electronic, and would not technically meet the  
          method or timing requirements of the provision of a written  
          order at the conclusion of the hearing.

          To the extent the bill's provisions could be broadened to  
          provide more flexibility to the courts could serve to reduce the  
          potential fiscal impacts of this measure, while still improving  
          the process of providing litigants with the services and support  
          they require.

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