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.