Orange County’s Family Court and Family Law Judges – an Inside Scoop (or something like that)

By | February 28, 2017

The Orange County family courts are a bit of a mystery to those who enter its doors. Those that sit before the judge often don’t know how the system works, let alone why this judge was chosen to hear their case. In this blog post, we’ll attempt to demystify OC’s family court and its family law judges.

How Are the Judges Elected to the Seats in OC family Courts?

According to the California Rules of Court, the presiding judge of the superior court assigns a judge to the family court. The assigned judge is to serve for at least 3 years. There are 2 things that the superior court judge considers when making this selection:

  1. What is the nominated judge’s experience in family law litigation and mediation?
  2. Does the nominated judge prefer to serve in the family law department?

It’s important that the judge wants to serve in family law, because there is a different set of rules due to the relationships of the litigants. There must be other things considered to make the best judgment, as no law is truly black and white. Before even considering the individual who will serve as a family law judge, he/she must meet the education requirements to practice in family law courts:

  1. Basic Family law Education – This basic educational program was designed primarily for judicial officers, but a family law judge does need to complete the program as well.
  2. Continue Family Law Education – Periodically, the judge must be educated on updated or new developments in California family law and procedure.
  3. Other Family Law Education – The judge must complete additional educational programs that provide information on other parts of family law, such as interdisciplinary subjects relationship to the family.

Besides being educated and staying up-to-date on California family law matters, the appointed judge will also have to meet the following requirements[1]:

  • New trial court judges must complete the New Judge Orientation Program within six months of taking the oath as a judge.
  • In addition to the more general new judge orientation, the judge also has to complete an orientation course in family law, within 1 year of taking the oath as a judge.
  • The judge also must complete the B.E. Witkin Judicial College of California within 2 years of taking the oath.
  • Every 3 years, judges must complete 30 hours of continuing judicial education


How is Family Court Different From Civil Court?

Generally speaking, a civil court deals with disputes between people or organizations. Issues that are brought to civil court can be about:

  • Contract breach
  • Wills
  • Property damage
  • Personal injury
  • Work injuries
  • Discrimination

Individuals could take legal action against another individual or an organization, just as an organization can take action against another organization or an individual.

Family law courts, on the other hand, deal with legal actions between those who have or had an intimate relationship or are family members. The issues brought to court are similar to those of civil courts, however the rules are different because of the parties’ relationship. Oftentimes, and whenever possible, any family law actions that are related to the same family are to be assigned to the same judge, so that in the end the same judge is the one who makes all decisions. This allows the judge to know different aspects of the family’s life and be able to make the best judgment.

Because the issues of family law may deal with children, the guidelines for making judgment are more restricting. It is the family court’s responsibility to make decisions that are in the children’s best interests. The family court takes a proactive approach in the community to provide education and resources to help families who are affected by the family court system. These may include:

  • Ordering of appropriate treatment and services for the children and family
  • Assisting financially disadvantaged litigants to have the proper resources and/representation
  • Actively promote timely completion of family law cases
  • Appointing counsel for children who are the subject of child custody cases or other related cases
  • Ensure that the decisions are made in the best interest of children, throughout the whole process

Orange County Family Courts & Family Law Judges | JS Why is There No Jury?

Furthermore, Orange County family courts do not provide jury trials. Family courts within California is considered a court of equity. This means that it is a judge-only court and litigants don’t have any rights to a jury for family law matters. This is different than a court of law, in that:

  • A court of law must follow the rules as outlined in established laws
  • Whereas, a court of equity is allowed some room to make decisions on what is fair and just

Family law court is very much a court of equity. The judgment is based on factors and not just statutes governing the subject, or any contract terms. For instance, child custody cases consider the relationship between the child and parents. It’s impossible to come up with an exact measurement of how close the child-parent relationship is; that is why it takes a good family law judge to hear these cases.

If you are considering taking your family legal issue to court, read more about all of the different areas of family law that we practice here. Family law courts are not easy to figure out, nor is it ever recommended that you self-represent if you don’t have any prior experience in law. Talk to our family law attorney in Orange County and learn more about the process that your potential case may go through.

[1] 2017 California Rules of Court