Since approximately mid-March, the Stanislaus County Superior Court has had new procedures due to covid-19. While the Court’s motivation is excellent, the procedures have, predictably, had some rough patches.
The difficulties are not the Court’s fault. This is a new experiment. There is no “template” for the Court to use.
All of the courts in the State are doing mediations differently. It’s pretty much a learning experience both for the courts and the attorneys.
This article deals with how the Stanislaus County County Superior Court is handling child custody mediations. The next article will cover how the Stanislaus County Superior Court is currently handling family law economic hearings.
Mediations are now exclusively by telephone. Each party / attorney has a telephone code and is required to call in shortly beforehand. So there is no face-to-face contact.
This makes for an unusual and often uncomfortable situation. Being unable to see the mediator, attorneys and parties do not have any feedback in terms of facial expressions or body language as to what the mediator is thinking. Also, parties tend to speak over one another since there are different phone lines in operation. Finally, this requires attorneys to have to sit in their offices with their clients—not good since everyone should be social distancing these days due to Covid.
So far the Court has not used Zoom, Facetime or Duo for the mediations. I am assuming that Zoom has not been used because of confidentiality concerns.
Now the courts have added new time slots. I have heard that the court will be adding a third time slot, 9:30, in the future. Also, in the past no mediations were scheduled on Fridays. That also has changed.
Also, effective August 17, the Court is no longer setting for child custody counseling review hearings on the private custody evaluations. Similar to Family Court Services evaluation reports, the Court will set the matter for hearing so that the Court can inquire of the parties if they will accept the recommendations of the evaluator. If there is an objection, the Court will set the matter for trial. According to the official court release, “The court believes that this new procedure will free up needed spaces for child custody counseling cases to establish new or modified custody orders.”
As another family law attorney emailed to me on September 4: “I spent almost an hour on hold (technically 1 30 minute period and then a 25 minute period because of a disconnect) for mediation yesterday only to get bumped. Another family law attorney in my office had the same, only her client had been bumped the time before also. Very frustrating for everyone.”