Published Articles

SHARED CUSTODY DURING THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

This is an unprecedented time. It affects our lives in myriad ways. We are stressed to the limit about our health and the health of our children and of all our families and friends. Adding to the stress is that we don’t know who may be contagious, because people may be contagious but symptom-free. Further adding to the stress is everyone’s financial stress. Many parents have lost their jobs or are facing reduced income. Adding even further to the stress is that we do not know when this crisis may end, whether it will get worse, and how much worse it will get. The uncertainty is unsettling.
Shared parenting with a former spouse or partner can be difficult in the best of times. How can it be managed in these worst of times? Should parents follow the parenting plan even though it requires the children to travel back and forth to each home? What if one parent has been diagnosed with COVID-19? What if your child has a compromised immune system? What if you know or suspect that the other parent is not following the guidelines for staying home and socially isolating? While there are no absolute or easy answers, we hope that the following provides some guidance.

Follow Court Orders Regarding Custody and Visitation
First, review carefully your court-ordered parenting plan, if you have one. Although the Governor has issued an Order that all persons stay at home, your children have two homes. Please do not use the Governor’s Order as an excuse to hold the children in your home contrary to the existing Court Orders for shared custody, and contrary to the wishes and expectations of the other parent. A parent’s failure to follow the court orders, absent some written agreement, could result in the parent losing custodial rights. Remember that although the courts are closed (except for emergency orders), you may have to account later for the actions you take today.
If, and only if, your children are clearly and obviously in unnecessary risk of contracting coronavirus at the other parent’s home, and only if all efforts to resolve the problem have been unsuccessful should you consider seeking emergency orders to alter the Court Orders. It would be wise to seek the advice of a medical professional or therapist before you seek such an emergency court order. Communicate with the other parent and attempt to reach agreement before seeking any emergency Court Orders.

Cooperate and Communicate Respectfully With the Other Parent
Do everything you can to cooperate with your former spouse or partner about the parenting plan and keeping yourselves and your children safe. If you have concerns about the other parent’s parenting, safety of the children, or other issues at this stressful time, communicate calmly and respectfully with the other parent about your concerns. Do not berate, accuse, belittle or lecture. You are far more likely to come to an understanding and agreement with the other parent regarding your concerns if you communicate them respectfully.
If you and/or the other parent are home-schooling the children, share your experiences, successes and failures with the other parent, and seek their input and advice. Home-schooling is very hard. Acknowledge that and collaborate with your co-parent on the methods that work.

If Necessary for the Health and Safety of the Children, Alter the Court Orders by Mutual Written Agreement
With the Court Orders in mind, you and your co-parent are free to make a plan that ensures that the children will be able to have maximum contact with both parents.
Imagine for example, a situation where parents share custody under a court-ordered shared parenting plan. However, one parent is not working and the other is a health care worker caring for COVID-19 patients. Faced with this situation, the parents may mutually agree that it is not safe for the child to spend in-person time with the working parent. The parents may then come to an agreement that during this crisis, the child will reside exclusively with the parent who remains at home. The parents can make other arrangements for liberal and frequent custodial time with the working parent, via Skype, FaceTime or phone.
Any agreement you reach with the other parent that changes the current orders should be in writing. While you and your co-parent may prefer text messaging, text messages are not the best form of writing for any agreement, as they are difficult for a judicial officer to review. Get the agreement in writing on paper and signed if possible, or at least in an email. Consult an attorney, if possible, regarding the language to avoid misunderstandings and to avoid later problems in court. Be as precise with your language as possible.

If you and your co-parent agree that the child should remain in your home exclusively, be extremely generous with your creative efforts to ensure contact with the other parent.

Be Creative – Technology is Your Friend
If you and your co-parent mutually agree that one parent should not be physically present with the child at present for legitimate safety concerns, be creative to be sure that the child is engaging with the absent parent as much as possible. Depending on your children’s ages and interests, you could have the children send drawings, letters or poems to the other parent. If possible, send them via text message, Instagram, email or other electronic means to ensure real-time communication. Do your children play an instrument? Do they like acting out plays or skits? Do they like to tell jokes? Have them record a video of themselves engaging in their creative efforts and share the video with the other parent. For the chess players, sign them up for online chess so that they can play chess with the other parent (you can restrict your younger child’s account to avoid their contact with strangers). Let your video gamers play online video games with the other parent. These are just a few ideas – come up with your own, in collaboration with the children and the other parent.

Stay Updated Regarding Health Information and Advisories
Be informed so that you and your co-parent can make the best collective choices for your family.

Manage Your Own Stress and That of Your Children
You and your children will thrive best during this crisis if you manage to stay calm and if you help them to de-stress. Find time to engage in the activities that keep you and your children centered and calm. Think about what those things are: exercise, meditation, listening to music, cooking, watching comedies on TV or Netflix, or engaging in a craft or hobby. Find new hobbies or new ways to de-stress, too. Then make sure that you take time each day to engage in those activities and encourage your children to do so, too.
Keep the Children Safe: Follow Social Distancing with your Children and Prepare Healthy Foods for the Family

Practice Social Distancing and Safe Health Practices
Do not invite your friends, or your children’s friends, to your home. When you go out for exercise or walks, maintain a six-foot distance from others. Wash your hands frequently, and make sure your children do, too. Teach them how to wash with soap for 20 seconds by singing the alphabet song.
Try to help the children get enough sleep. Depending on their ages, make sure you read them bedtime stories or limit their screen time before bed.

Prepare Healthy Foods for The Family

We are all trying to go to the supermarket less than we normally do. Some say that we should try to go only once a week. With this in mind, when you do go to the store, stock up on lots of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean meats or meat substitutes. Avoid the soda and junk food aisles. A healthy diet will help boost your family’s immune system and help to ward off illness. Make a good list, get what you and your family need, but don’t hoard.

Share your efforts to keep healthy with the other parent. If each of you knows you are doing your best to keep the children safe and healthy, you are more likely to come to a mutually agreeable solution to co-parenting during this crisis.

Seek Counseling
If you or your children are stressed or depressed, seek counseling with a licensed therapist. Therapists are conducting counseling safely via Zoom or Skype. If you have a therapist you trust, call him or her. If not, find one.
Summary: This is a challenging time for all of us. We all need to use all our efforts to care for each other and our children, and to weather this storm. We need to be the adults in the room.
For more information, read the California’s Governor’s Order and the Guidance from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, with the links below.
https://covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/
https://www.afccnet.org/Coronavirus

Areas of Practice:
Divorce
Legal Separation
Child Custody
Child Visitation
Parenting Plans (Custody)
Stepparent Adoption
Division of Property
Spousal Support
Child Support
Marital Settlement Agreements
Same Sex Marriage and LGBT Family Law
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Modification of Existing Parenting Plans (Custody)
Modification of Child Support or Spousal Support Orders
Mediation of Family Law Matters

We Are Here to Help.
Contact Us Today.

COVID-19 COURT CLOSURES

The Ventura County Superior Court will be closed Monday, March 16 through Wednesday, March 18, 2020. A small number of courtrooms will be open to hear urgent criminal, juvenile, unlawful detainer and temporary restraining order issues only.

Beginning Thursday, March 19, the court will resume limited operations through Friday, March 20. At that time, the court will announce whether limited operations will continue based upon guidance provided by public health agencies.

Other superior courts throughout the State are also closing or severely curtailing operations.

Be assured that my office will continue update you as to changes and to evaluate what impact these closures have on the matters I am handling for each of my clients.

Superior Court Press Release

The Ventura Superior Court will be closed Monday, March 16 through Wednesday, March 18. Persons who have been summoned for jury service during this time should closely follow the instructions on their jury summons. Those reporting to the courthouse whose group number has not been called will be given another date to return. The court closure days are judicial holidays for purposes of filing deadlines and other time calculations. Beginning Thursday, March 19, the court will resume limited operations. The majority of courtrooms and all clerk’s offices at all court locations will remain closed. A small number of courtrooms will be open to hear urgent criminal, juvenile, unlawful detainer and temporary restraining order issues only. This will continue through Friday, March 20. At that time, the court will announce whether limited operations will continue based upon guidance provided by public health agencies. These actions are in response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s declaration of a State of Emergency in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the Ventura County Public Health Department’s declaration of a local health emergency.

California Courts Press Release

Areas of Practice:
Divorce
Legal Separation
Child Custody
Child Visitation
Parenting Plans (Custody)
Stepparent Adoption
Division of Property
Spousal Support
Child Support
Marital Settlement Agreements
Same Sex Marriage and LGBT Family Law
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Modification of Existing Parenting Plans (Custody)
Modification of Child Support or Spousal Support Orders
Mediation of Family Law Matters

We Are Here to Help.
Contact Us Today.

FAMILY LAW STATE OF THE COURTS 2019

by Claudia Silverman

Presiding Family Law Judge William Q. Liebmann always looks forward to his annual State of the Court address. This year a enthusiastic assembly included Judge John Smiley, Judge JoAnn Johnson, Judge Michael Lief and Commissioner Judy Rhodes, as well as judicial court staffers Tamika Smith, Tracy Jones and Monika Azuna, newly appointed Managing Attorney Alfonzo Martinez, not to mention lawyers, therapists, mediators, and others.

Judge Liebmann reported:

Workload
The Judicial Council recently completed a new statewide workload study. Notably, the workload of the Ventura County bench requires seven more judges than we currently have. While the court is twelfth largest in the state, we are fourth in number of filings per judicial position, and fifth in dispositions among all cases, not just in family law. (Family law statistics, interestingly, are not applicable or meaningful, because they track only new cases and cases dismissed or going to judgment, not pre- or post-judgment RFOs.) Ventura County bench officers handle 25 percent more work than the Judicial Council believes is appropriate. Judge Liebmann observed that this is made possible because “we have a good bench and we work hard.”

Ventura County will receive one of the 25 new judge seats allocated by the Legislature in next year’s budget, but that seat is not likely slated for the Family Law division because other divisions have greater need.

Fiscal Health of the Court
The Court’s fiscal health has gradually improved since the last recession budget and staff cuts. While the Legislature and Governor restored some of our funding in recent years, the court sees no prospect yet of restoring family law hearings at the Simi Valley courthouse.

Clerk’s Office
Though the filing windows are not at their pre-recession operating times, electronic filing has largely made the closing time filing rush a thing of the past. Before implementation of electronic filing, the court received about 60 fax filings per month in civil; now there are over 1,400 electronic filings per month. Family law receives about 400 electronic filings per month.
Staff at the filing windows changes periodically. The court has long had a policy of cross-training staff to provide redundancy and back-up when a particular division experiences unexpected workload, and to provide opportunities for staff advancement. The downside is the learning curve as someone learns new skills. If there is a problem at the filing window or elsewhere in the system, Judge Liebmann counseled not to hesitate to speak to a supervisor; if the supervisor is not present, ask to speak to the manager. Supervisors and managers are there to make sure that things are done right and to remedy problems that may arise.

Family Law Facilitator’s Office
Also known as the Self-Help Center, this office has had a busy year. They have brought on additional staff through an Innovation Grant from the Judicial Council. The Center is now conducting webinars each week about family law proceedings. The webinars are very successful, and the staff attorneys have presented talks on the program at two statewide conferences in the past three months.

In addition, the facilities at the Juvenile Justice Center were remodeled and the hours expanded – the Family Law Facilitator’s office there is now open five days a week. Room 30 is scheduled for a complete overhaul – it was previously the dependency court and has never really been adequate for its present use. Judge Liebmann applauded the extraordinary volume of assistance provided by this office: as of the date of the presentation, Sept. 17, the Family Law Facilitator’s Office had already served approximately 9000 litigants.

Family Court Services
Managing Attorney Alfonso Martinez is very approachable and open to your suggestions and concerns. Court supervisor Vince Morda has retired and been replaced by Brian Adams. For the foreseeable future, Adams will be both supervising the other mediators and also conducting mediations. “He will be busy,” remarked Judge Liebmann appreciatively.

Staff
Judge Liebmann acknowledged the hard work of the court secretaries, who tirelessly field calls from the “pro pers, attorneys, attorney’s staff, experts, significant others, and officious intermeddlers,” while also scheduling ex partes and preparing and processing orders. The judicial assistants and bailiffs are also crucial to the operation of the court, and work very hard.

The Bench
Newest on the bench is Commissioner Judy Rhoades, presiding over Courtroom 34. She has been doing a marvelous job carrying the load in the most high-volume courtroom in the Family Law Department.

Judge Michael Lief was introduced to the family law bar about one year ago. His performance over the past year has shown that he is more than up to the task; he has fully demonstrated his grasp of and commitment to the family law assignment.

Judge Liebmann noted that he has known Judge Johnson for many years – “I remember litigating cases against her when some of you were in preschool.” She is truly an all-star.
Judge Smiley “absolutely epitomizes the family law judge. The superlatives do not do him justice. Year after year I struggle to find a way to convey the absolute awe I hold him in and to express the respect and admiration I have for him.”

Proposed Changes to Local Rules
One of the proposals is to revise Rule 4.05, which governs electronic filing. There will be a number of proposed limitations, including a page limit of 200. This limitation was inspired by an attorney who “lodged” a 2,000-page deposition transcript. Judge Liebmann encourages all to review the Judicial Council website for proposed changes to the California Rules of Court and forms and to make comments if appropriate. “I think we have all had the experience of seeing a new or revised mandatory form and questioning why someone, anyone, thought the change was a good idea. If no one pays attention to proposed changes or gives intelligent input, these things will continue to happen.”

The new rules will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Civility and Professionalism
Noting that there have been no groundbreaking new family law cases or statutes to discuss this year, Judge Liebmann turned his attention to declining civility in our practice. Although the professionalism and cooperation that attorneys show to one another “has been the hallmark of the Ventura County Bar and has distinguished it from some of our nearby counties,” Judge Liebman noted a “slow but accelerating erosion of that ethos.” He expressed dismay at the noticeable increase in the number of personal comments about opposing counsel as well as the number of requests for Family Code section 271 sanctions “due to opposing counsel taking a different view of how the case should proceed. It is not a good trend.”

Judge Liebmann started thinking about this topic while reading Wendy Lascher’s article in the September CITATIONS about recognizing the importance of the quality of our lives outside of work. “Remember,” Judge Liebmann said, “you belong to an ancient and honorable profession. You are officers of the court. Please act as such. And if you encounter someone who is not living up to the principles of the profession – do your absolute best to model fitting behavior rather than responding in kind.”

Claudia Siverman is a member of CITATIONS’ editorial board. She is a Family Law Specialist, certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. She may be reached at (805) 981-3908.

FAMILY LAW COMMISSIONER JUDITH RHODES: GIVING THE COMMUNITY A VOICE 2019

by Claudia Silverman

At last achieving a goal formed during childhood, Judith Rhodes has been appointed to the Ventura County Superior Court as a Family Law Commissioner.  As a teen growing up in the South Bay, the future Commissioner often observed proceedings in the Courtroom of Judge George Perkovich, who was her mentor and neighbor.  Commissioner Rhodes decided at that young age that she wanted to become an attorney and possibly a judge. “I have wanted this for a long time, and was very persistent to get this job,” Commissioner Rhodes said.

Commissioner Rhodes’ path to judicial office has been impressive. She was a family lawyer in private practice for 30 years. She frequently served as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Ventura Superior Court’s Family Law Division and was a member of the court’s Minor’s Counsel Panel for many years.  A Certified Family Law Specialist, she was also recognized as a “Southern California Super Lawyer” for the three years preceding her appointment to the bench.

With her background as a Judge Pro Tem, Commissioner Rhodes was certainly well-prepared for the challenges of judicial office.  She graciously offered that the transition to judgeship has been made easier by the support system offered by her colleagues on the bench as well as her husband Randy Rhodes, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge for the past 23 years.

Currently assigned to Department 34 of the Ventura County Superior Court, Commissioner Rhodes handles some of the most difficult cases in family court: domestic violence restraining orders, civil harassment restraining orders, and child support cases. Ninety percent of the litigants in her courtroom are self-represented. Acknowledging that in restraining order matters she must rule against one party or the other, Commissioner Rhodes’ goal is to make sure that everyone who walks out of her courtroom “feels they have been listened to, regardless of the outcome.  The most satisfying part of my job is that I am able to give the community a voice.” Apparently this openness is appreciated by the litigants who appear before her. “Most people who leave my courtroom say ‘thank you,’ and I am grateful for that,” she said.

One of the more surprising and heartbreaking aspects of the Commissioner’s caseload involves numerous children age 12 and over seeking restraining orders against other children (often classmates) for bullying.  In these cases, Commissioner Rhodes is vigilant about protecting children’s rights and privacy and takes special care to be sure that each child’s story is heard. She commits to painstaking review of the evidence, which often includes testimony of teachers, other adults and children, as well as photos and videos, social media posts, and other shared information between children. These cases are sadly all too common in her courtroom – she hears three to four such matters each week. Commissioner Rhodes believes that her background as an appointed attorney for children prepared her to handle these cases with the compassion and care that vulnerable child litigants deserve. 

Commissioner Rhodes also hears cases brought under the Gun Violence Protective Order statute. Penal Code section 18100 et seq., effective January 1, 2016, permits a peace officer or immediate family member to obtain an ex parte emergency order or restraining order permitting, upon a showing of good cause, law enforcement’s confiscation of all firearms and ammunition in a person’s custody or control. Commissioner Rhodes states that his is a particularly effective tool to prevent domestic gun violence.  Commissioner Rhodes believes that the statute’s protections are most safely and efficiently employed when the order is sought by law enforcement (as opposed to family members), thus permitting law enforcement to enforce the order and to immediately confiscate the weapons. 

Commissioner Rhodes was the owner and principal attorney of the Law Offices of Judith D. Rhodes from 2002 until her appointment. Prior to that, she was an associate attorney at Van Sickle & Associates from 1999 to 2002, the Law Offices of Bobette Fleishman from 1996 to 1999, and the Law Offices of Cunningham and Lansden from 1994 to 1996. She was an associate and later owner and principal of the Law Offices of Judith Dahlman from 1988 to 1994.

Commissioner Rhodes is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, and earned her law degree from the University of  West Los Angeles.

Claudia Silverman is certified as a Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Her offices are in Oxnard, California.

LET’S GET STARTED!

Contact

Phone

(805) 568-9580

Address

1000 Town Center Drive
Suite 300
Oxnard, CA 93036

Credit Cards Accepted
Family Law Specialist
Oxnard, Ventura, Camarillo Divorce Attorney
Legal Separation
Child Custody
Child Visitation
Parenting Plans (Custody)
Stepparent Adoption
Division of Property
Spousal Support
Child Support
Marital Settlement Agreements
Same Sex Marriage and LGBT
Prenuptial Agreements
Postnuptial Agreements
Modification of Existing Parenting Plans (Custody)
Modification of Child Support
Modification of Spousal Support
Family Law Mediation