California Family Law Measure Seeks More Open Child Welfare Hearings

A bill currently being considered by the California legislature would make significant changes to the way California child dependency hearings are conducted in the state. This crucial aspect of California family law is not widely understood, and merits closer examination.

According to Capitol Weekly, a publication focused on politics and government in Sacramento, hearings in California’s dependency courts “are considered “presumptively closed” – that is, members of the public and the press are barred unless a judge feels there is a compelling reason to open a hearing up.” Dependency Courts are a special sub-set of the broader California court system that hear cases dealing with the foster care system and with California child custody issues stemming from alleged abuse and/or neglect.

As Capitol Weekly notes, “the rational for having closed courts is to protect vulnerable children.” But backers of AB 73, a bill seeking to make dependency court hearings presumptively open, take the view that public scrutiny is essential for preventing miscarriages of justice. The Weekly notes that there is no uniform national standard for openness in dependency courts – only in Oregon and Pennsylvania are dependency hearings always open – but that “the pendulum appears to be shifting towards more open courts” nationally, especially here in the western states. A recent opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle put forward the view that greater scrutiny of the dependency courts will provide an extra layer of insurance against ill-considered rulings.

Dependency courts deal with some of the toughest issues facing the California family court system. Issues like alleged abuse and neglect, parental alienation and guardianship questions. For Orange County parents confronted with the need to enter into legal proceedings being sent to a dependency court only adds an extra layer of stress to the already emotionally volatile issues of Orange County child custody, visitation and guardianship.

The assistance of a skilled and compassionate Orange County family law attorney is crucial for any parent confronted with the need to deal with the court system. Dealing with a little-known, and often secretive part of the justice system, such as the California dependency courts, is all the more stressful – and requires the best Orange County family law assistance available.

Capitol Weekly: Attempt under way to open up courts that deal with child abuse cases

San Francisco Chronicle: Impelling Foster Care Reform Through Journalistic Truth