Johnston-Rossi v. Rossi (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 1081

A family law judge ordered that a father was permitted to enroll himself and his two teenage children in “a week-long program such as Family Bridges.”  Purporting to merely “implement” this order, father asked the court to order the children to attend Family Bridges, which actually turned out to be a 90-day extreme isolation program that bars children from all contact with their custodial parent (here, mother).  The trial court (now, a new judge), took the position that the first judge had already ordered that program, and therefore denied the mother’s request for an evidentiary hearing and issued an order allowing the father to have sole custody of the children for the time necessary to complete Family Bridges—including the 90-day-minimum, no-contact-with-mother portion of the program.  GMSR represented the mother and obtained a writ of supersedeas to stay the order pending resolution of the appeal.

The Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the Family Bridges order issued by the second judge.  Since a showing of changed circumstances is required to modify a final custody determination, the Court of Appeal held that the second judge abused his discretion by modifying custody to prohibit contact between the children and their mother for at least 90 days without any evidence of changed circumstances to justify the modification.  The second judge also abused his discretion by denying the mother’s request for an evidentiary hearing, based on his incorrect assumption that the first judge had already ordered the children to participate in Family Bridges.

To read the Court of Appeal opinion, click HERE.

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