The typical delay in getting your first hearing for a family law matter is between four and six weeks. For most matters, whether or not you get to court in one week or four weeks is not going to make too large a difference. For others, it could literally mean the difference between life or death.
California family courts are not deaf to these concerns. That is why they have established a couple different methods for obtaining relief when such critical matters are on the line.
Ex Parte Relief
The first method is known as a request for “ex parte” relief. Ex parte (pronounced “party”) is named after what its latin origin implies: “without party.” In this case, the individual requesting relief is asking the court to provide it without the other party being present, or at the very least without time to prepare a well-developed opposition.
The rules for requesting ex parte relief vary from county to county. Yolo County, Sacramento County and Placer County each have different procedures and in some cases forms individuals must use to file ex parte papers in family court.
Typically, an ex parte hearing requires calling the other party at least 24 hours before the hearing. Then the individual requesting relief must file the appropriate paperwork at the family court house. In some cases, the paperwork must be taken directly to the clerk of the judge in the court in which the matter will be heard. That way the paperwork gets to the judge with enough time for the judge to read it before the hearing.
Some matters are clearly appropriate for ex parte relief. Some are clearly not. The rest fall in between. What is important to understand is that ex parte relief requires from the judge a heightened level of scrutiny to determine the facts at hand. This is because the other side has not been given a chance to develop a proper response. For the same reason, those requesting ex parte relief are expected to provide the court with all key facts about the case, even if they are unfavorable.
Ex parte’s come up frequently in child custody cases where one parent discovers the other parent is living a dangerous lifestyle, or putting the child in danger. If such a finding is substantiated, the judge is likely to provide ex parte relief. However, some attorneys have come to expect “blood on the floor” to justify ex parte relief. In other words, the requesting party needs to show there is either blood already, or that there is likely to be grave injury should the relief not be given. The party requesting the relief simply has to use his or her best judgment.
The worst that will happen is the judge will deny the relief and order the parties to reappear on the normal calendar. However, if the requesting party is rebuffed by the judge countless times the court is likely to develop a poor opinion of that person’s credibility. This could lead to a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” scenario where the emergency is real, but the judge doesn’t believe you.