Fathers & Families Files Official Response to Elkins Task Force Recommendations on California Family Law Reforms
December 7th, 2009 by Glenn Sacks, MA, Executive Director
“[Family law litigants should not be subjected to second-class status or deprived of access to justice. Litigants with other civil claims are entitled to resolve their disputes in the usual adversary trial proceeding governed by the rules of evidence established by statute. It is at least as important that courts employ fair proceedings when the stakes involve a judgment providing for custody in the best interest of a child and governing a parent’s future involvement in his or her child’s life…”–Elkins v. Superior Court (2007)
Family law takes up more court calendar time than any other form of law in California, yet it receives the least amount of funding. Moreover, the public’s trust and confidence in the family court system is lower than that of any other area of law the judicial system handles.
The Elkins Family Law Task Force is conducting a comprehensive review of family law proceedings and will recommend to the Judicial Council of California proposals that increase access to justice for all family law litigants. The Task Force grew out of the Elkins decision referenced above–to learn more, click here and go to page 3.
The Elkins Family Law Task Force recently issued its draft recommendations and Fathers & Families has submitted its official comments in response. Fathers & Families’ comments, which were submitted by F & F Board Member Elizabeth Barton, PhD of the University of California at Irvine, are here.
Elkins’ recommendations concern 21 family court issues, including: Enhancing Mechanisms to Handle Perjury; the Right to Present Live Testimony at Hearings; Contested Child Custody; Streamlining Family Law Forms and Procedures; and numerous others.
While Fathers & Families feels that many of the recommendations lack sufficient substantive detail, we believe that this will be addressed in the Task Force’s final recommendations to the Judicial Council in Spring 2010. We are encouraged that the recommendations address transparency, due process, and education.
Many of the issues the Elkins Commission is taking up, such as conflict reduction, improving transparency, and protecting all parties’ due process rights, were first addressed by Fathers & Families’ legislative representative Michael Robinson during his work on AB 402 in 2006.
AB 402, a family law bill sponsored by then-California Assemblyman Mervyn M. Dymally, codified collaborative law practice into our family law codes. The current adversarial litigation process escalates conflict between divorcing parents instead of reducing it. Collaborative Law is a better option.
Among other provisions, AB 402 mandated a written statement of decision in all hearings or trials involving child custody. While this provision was already part of the Codes of Civil Procedure, it was not always being followed.
Robinson also attempted to add provisions for stronger enforcement of child custody orders by adding a new SECTION. 4. Family Code 3022 as part of AB 402. There was strong support for this provision from the California Judges Association and the Family Law Section of the State Bar. This provision was lost, but Fathers & Families is continuing to pursue this goal in Sacramento.
During the Work Group that AB 402 established (similar to the Elkins Task Force), Donna Hitchens, Presiding Judge of the San Francisco Family Court, commented:
You have no idea how many children’s college educations I have seen unnecessarily wasted in my court room. This must be stopped.
Fathers & Families will continue its close monitoring of the Elkins Task Force and will be reporting on future developments.
The next event is the Task Force’s two-day meeting February 1 & 2, 2010 in the Judicial Council Conference Center of the Administrative Office of the Courts in San Francisco. Fathers & Families will have a representative speaking at this meeting, and will post its presentation on our E-Newsletter and on www.FathersandFamilies.org.
Fathers & Families is also working on 2010 legislation to codify some of the Elkins Task Force’s most important recommendations–stay tuned for more details.
California law has an enormous impact on the laws of other states, as well as federal law. For example, many of the misguided domestic violence laws that have separated so many innocent fathers from their children emanated from the legislation passed in California in the mid-1990s in the wake of the OJ Simpson trial.
In addition, many of those reading this participated in our successful 2005 campaign to pass California SB 1082, a military parents bill. Since then 30 states have passed bills based in part on SB 1082.
Fathers & Families is the only family court reform organization with a fulltime lobbyist working inside the capitol of California or any other major state, and we probably have the only fulltime family court reform lobbyist in the country. This important work costs money–please support it by giving here.
The family court system has become so damaging and dysfunctional because for 40 years our opponents have passed, defeated, and amended legislation while our side usually didn’t show up. We’re there now, and we’re growing stronger–become a part of it by filling out our Volunteer Form here.