I'll Take "Starts With 'S'" For $400, Alex

December 2008
By Judge Maureen McKnight, Multnomah County Circuit Court

This article addresses family law issues, a topic which will appear regularly in this column on a rotating basis. Today's column is a hodgepodge of news and developments.

Answer 1:

What supervised visitation program that has operated since 2003 has now lost its federal funding and will almost certainly need to close its doors in early 2009?

Question 1: What is Safety Matters?

The Multnomah County Department of Human Services was notified that its recent renewal application for this grant was not approved by the federal Department of Justice. With only a small amount of county funding intended to bridge costs until renewal, Safety Matters will now very probably close in early 2009. It has been operated by the YWCA on contract with the county and is located at the Gateway Children's Receiving Center. The program offers both supervised visits and safe exchanges for families in Multnomah and Clackamas counties with domestic violence issues. Fees are charged on a sliding scale and over 260 families have been served over the last three years. The closure of the program will be a very significant resource loss to the family court.

Answer 2:

What federal law was recently amended to broaden its applicability to temporary family court orders?

Question 2: What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)?

Practitioners are familiar with the Department of Defense Web site (https://www.dmdc.osd.mil /scra/owa/ home) that can be accessed to verify military status for purposes of motions for default. Attorneys and judges, however, are just beginning to address the practice issues resulting from Iraq-War-prompted amendments to SCRA that define a "judgment" as "any judgment, decree, order, or ruling, final or temporary." 50 U.S.C. Appx '511(9) (emphasis added). This change has necessitated an examination of procedure and forms in FAPA cases and other protective proceedings but the federal act affects all non-criminal temporary orders. The bottom line is that SCRA provisions regarding default affidavits, stays, and appointment of counsel now apply to temporary relief, not just final/general judgments. In light of these and other changes, the OSB Military Assistance Panel and the Professional Liability Fund are sponsoring a half-day CLE on SCRA on March 6, 2009, at the OSB office.

Answer 3:

What new provision effective in February 2009 will require family law attorneys to serve a copy of a proposed order on the adverse party and wait 14 days before submission of an order, where the motion is not stipulated or docketed for hearing?

Question:3: What is Supplemental Local Rule 8.041(4)?

This new rule was drafted to deal with the significant numbers of potentially contested motions routed to Family Court judges for signature that are not set for hearings and for which no response time is provided. Typically, these are motions for telephone testimony, postponement, change of venue, vacate/reinstatement, etc. Ex parte appearances will remain permissible where specifically allowed by law, but unless other motions are stipulated or set for hearing, an attorney must serve the motion and proposed order on the adverse side with a notice informing that party of a 14 day response period. If no response if timely filed, after the 17th day the movant may submit the original proposed order by mail or at ex parte time (8:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m.) for judicial signature, along with a certificate attesting to compliance with this rule. Other rule changes effective in February 2009 include ex parte practice and matters exceeding 30 minutes set on the FAPA and child support dockets. All these rules are available for viewing on the court's public Web site (http://www.ojd.state.or.us/mul/Family.html). Click on the "LFLAC SLR Chapter 8" link.

Answer 4:

What type of cases constitute over 80% of the family law filings?Question: What are cases involving self-represented litigants? Many of these cases proceed by default but we are all aware of the significant numbers of individuals appearing in courtrooms without attorneys. Future articles will address some of the local and statewide initiatives developing in response.