Q. I have an upcoming hearing in my family law case. Can I appear by telephone
or must I be physically present in the courtroom?
A. There is authority for telephonic appearances in California family law
proceedings, but you need to have followed all the rules correctly in
order to safely attempt it and it is discretionary on the part of the
Court to allow it
(Cal.Rules of Court, Rule 3.670(e)). If you are out-of-state or many miles away, you stand a better chance.
These rules also generally apply to divorce lawyers and family law attorneys.
Our Indio based family law Judges and Commissioners generally do permit
you to appear by phone - but you need to plan for it!
In interstate custody proceedings under the UCCJEA, Family Code section
4930(f) expressly requires the court to permit you to appear by phone
if you reside in another jurisdiction. Indeed, you can even be deposed by phone.
In cases involving "high volume" child support cases where DCSS
is involved, Cal.Rules of Court Rule 5.234 authorizes telephonic appearances
except as limited by subsection (d) - involving certain contested trials
or where you've been subpoenaed to be present.
Cal.Rules of Court, Rule 3.670 authorizes telephonic appearances in certain
civil proceedings, and is made applicable to cases under the Family Code by
Rule 1.6 (terming family law proceedings as "general civil cases"), but
examine the exceptions in subsection (d) to Rule 3.670. Also, note that
subsection (e) gives the Court hugely broad discretion to allow a telephonic
appearance in all kinds of settings. There are strict notice requirements
that you must correctly follow to tee this up, per subsection (g). Don't
expect your family court judge to have any familiarity with these sections,
so consider submitting Points and Authorities along with your request.
In Riverside County, our
Local Rule 5160 makes telephone appearances possible in all family law proceedings "in
cases of extreme hardship" but you must use
Judicial Council Form FL-679, which you should use in any telephone appearance application that you
make anywhere in California.
However, if the other side objects and particularly if there is going to
be live testimony (which rarely occurs in family law request for order
settings) your personal appearance will likely be required. And, you may
be placing yourself at a disadvantage since the Court cannot "see
you" and you cannot see what is happening in the courtroom, or review
documents or other evidence that the other side might attempt to introduce
at the hearing.