Coping with COVID-19 and the Courts


California’s Judicial Council puts emergency rules in place for courts across the state

During the state of emergency related to COVID-19 pandemic, the services offered at courts across California vary widely. To help offset the impact of the scaled-back services, the California Judicial Council is responding with temporary emergency rules aimed at minimizing the effect on people who need those essential court services. The Chief Justice explains the aim of the emergency rules, “preserve the rule of law and protect the rights of victims, the accused, litigants, families and children, and all who seek justice.” The rules were developed with input from local courts and provide blanket requirements for some procedures. Below are several of the rules that apply to family law proceedings.

Emergency Rule 13: Simplifying Support Modification Requests

Emergency rule 13 gives judges the discretion to backdate a modified support (such as child, spousal or family support) order based on the date it was mailed to the other person in the case rather than the date it is was filed with the court. These rules are particularly relevant since the income for many people is dramatically impacted by the loss of work or even the loss of their jobs during the pandemic. This emergency rule is designed to help people get relief closer to the time they experience the change in their income or the termination of their job. Moore Schulman & Moore Founding Partner, David Schulman says the emergency rules are helpful. “It is clear the stay-at-home orders are impacting the income of many families. This emergency rule helps to make sure that both the person giving the support, and the person receiving the support know about the possible change in income as soon as possible so they can modify their spending.” The judges in these cases can still decide not to modify the support, as well as use their own discretion as to when the changes would go into effect at all.

Emergency Rule 12: Electronic Service

Emergency rule 12 requires electronic service (such as email or specialized e-services online) by people who are represented by an attorney. People who represent themselves can elect to use electronic service of documents as well, but they have to approve of the service in writing prior to being served. Before providing electronic service, the party providing the service has to confirm it is being sent to the appropriate electronic address. The rule requires that all confidential or sealed documents be sent with encrypted methods to make sure they are protected.

Emergency Rule 12 and 13 will remain in effect until 90 days after the state of the emergency is lifted regarding the COVID-19 pandemic or the Judicial Council votes to repeal or amend the rules.

Emergency Rule 8: Restraining Order Expiration Dates Extended

In many counties across California, access to the courts is extremely limited. Emergency rule 8 is designed to keep protective orders in place for victims of domestic abuse until the court can further review these cases. Rule 8 extends the deadlines for any emergency protective orders, temporary restraining orders, or criminal protective orders that were set to expire during the state of emergency.

The Judicial Council is expected to approve more emergency rules as the conditions surrounding the courts and the state of emergency evolve. “Certainly we understand the significant pressure the courts are under and appreciate the help the emergency rules provide to families trying to cope with the pandemic while their family law issues are mostly on-hold,“ says MSM Founding Partner, Erik Moore.

Court operations can vary dramatically by county and the guidelines they are adhering to are fluid. To see when your courts expect to reopen, take a look at their website. The family law courts in San Diego have been closed with minimal services available since March and are not expected to open until after Memorial Day 2020.

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