Family Court UpdatesApril 2011
By Judge Maureen McKnight, Multnomah County Circuit Court
Custody and Parenting Time Evaluations
After comprehensive discussions with the Family Law Bench, the Multnomah County Department of Family Court Services (FCS) recently announced changes in criteria for custody and parenting time evaluations conducted by that department. A memo from Janice Garceau, Manager of FCS, details these changes and is available at www.mbabar.org/courts.htm. In addition to criteria set out in SLR 8.047, evaluations by FCS must now also involve children aged 10 or younger, completion or waiver of the parent education course and completion or waiver of mediation within the last six months. Additionally, and with some exceptions, the assessed evaluation fee (now $1,200) must be paid before the evaluation starts.
The changes in evaluation criteria are necessary because of reduced FCS staff, an increase in mediation cases, and the high volume of evaluation requests. The number of individuals attending mediation orientation the last four years has increased steadily from 621 to 812. The total number of cases mediated during that period has gone from 747 to 1,055. And evaluation orders stabilized at approximately 120 per year primarily because of close judicial attention to requests. The bench is strongly supporting the efforts of Family Court Services to maximize evaluation services for the most vulnerable children.
The family law judges are often asked about procedures to arrange consultations between judicial officers from different states when required under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act. Judge Waller has stated her preference that these matters be placed on the trial assignment docket so that individual judicial availability can be accommodated. The judges recognize, however, that jurisdictional issues are sometimes found only when final paperwork is routed to a judge for signature, so judicial involvement can also arise in that self-initiated context.
Judges vary on their preferred method for handling the consultation. The commentary to the uniform act recognizes that "communication can occur in many different ways, such as by telephonic conference and by online or other electronic communication." Commentary to §110 of UCCJEA, National Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (1997). Sometimes, hearings are held simultaneously in both states. Attorneys are advised to consult the individual trial department involved to learn the preferences of the assigned judge. Family court judges also request that attorneys dealing with UCCJEA consultations attempt to identify the judicial officer handling a pending matter in the sister state or country or who is otherwise available to handle the interstate communication, rather than leaving this work for the judge's staff.
Also on Judges' Wish Lists
- Completing parenting education class before reporting ready at trial assignment
- Following SLR 8.041 on permissible ex parte requests
- Submitting trial memoranda by noon the day of trial assignment, i.e., the day before hearing. SLR 6.015(4)
- Anticipating technology needs in advance - perhaps transcriptions of voicemail or text messages instead of playing an undecipherable call or asking court to look at text message on phone.