California Court of Appeals Holds Temporary Child Custody Order Non-Appealable

justice-srb-2-1040137-m.jpgParents facing child custody disputes typically have several identifiable goals: to ensure that the best interests of the children are met, to protect their custody rights, to get through the process with as little strife as possible, and on a practical level, to keep costs of resolving the matter to a minimum. These are all significant and meaningful matters. In order to achieve these goals, parents confronting child custody battles are encouraged to consult with an experienced family law attorney, one who is fully familiar with the process in the local San Diego area.

There are certainly ways parties can work to streamline the family court process: filing documents on time, asserting the most relevant and “on point” arguments for the case, and similarly, avoiding filing motions or other petitions that are inappropriate for the situation. In a recent California case, the court dismissed a father’s appeal of a temporary child custody order, finding no legal basis for the action. Here, a judgment dissolving the couple’s marriage was issued in April 2011. The mother was awarded custody of their child and the father was granted visitation rights.

During that year, the child (11 years-old) no longer wanted to see the father and stopped attending the scheduled visitation sessions. In December 2011, the court appointed a “reunification therapist” to determine whether it would be in the child’s best interest to participate in reunification therapy. In conjunction with this appointment, the court ordered the father to pay for the therapy costs. He paid for part of those costs, leaving a balance of $720.00 unpaid. The following year, in December 2012, the father moved to modify the custody and visitation arrangement and to modify the order requiring him to pay the therapists costs, so that both parents could share the unpaid amount due.

In March 2013, the trial court issued an order awarding sole legal and physical custody to the mom, terminating visitation with the dad (pending further court orders), and continuing the child’s sessions with the therapist as he or she deemed appropriate. Further, and rather importantly, the court order stated that the father owes the therapist $720, subject to reallocation. The matter was continued to May 2013 for a trial concerning custody, visitation and the cost of the reunification therapy. The father appealed the March 2013 order.

The court of appeals found the order non-appealable and therefore, dismissed the action. Under California law, an essential feature of an appealable post-judgment order is that it not be deemed “preliminary to later proceedings.” The March 2013 order clearly envisions future proceedings on matters such as custody, visitation and costs of reunification. The order actually states that the debt is subject to reallocation, intimating that there will be review of the issues in the future. Further, the court noted that the parties failed to cite any statute that “expressly” makes temporary custody orders appealable.

While this is an unpublished case, and parties may not cite or rely on the decision in future actions, it is possible that the court’s reasoning and conclusions may inform later cases in the jurisdiction.

This case is a good example of the importance of contacting an experienced family law attorney with extensive knowledge of the local court rules and laws applicable to a child custody case.

If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

Related Blog Posts:

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California Court of Appeals Directs a Child Custody Matter from Juvenile Court to Family Court