Are child custody cases impacted by lack of interpreters?

California is a diverse, multi-faceted state. More than 200 languages are spoken here, and it's reported that seven million residents "speak English less than very well."

For those who speak English as a first language, it can be difficult to imagine appearing in court without understanding what is being said by the attorneys, witnesses and judge. However, many in Orange County, California, find themselves in this exact position. Is this affecting child custody and other family law cases?

According to reports, the answer is yes. One of the state's supreme court justices is supporting a group of language-access workers who want to address the huge translator shortage for people who do not speak English. For example, there are few translators in San Diego to assist immigrants from Iraq. Further, there are only four translators in California for Tagalog, which is what many Filipinos speak.

There are many instances when a male family member will translate for the court because of the lack of translators, according to the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program's executive director. She said that some people who are in the courtroom audience who understand the language have said that the male family member is not interpreting what is being said correctly. In some cases, testimony wasn't translated correctly. That, the director says, is horrible for everyone involved in the case.

The main problem is funding within family courts. Criminal courts are funded by the counties, which pay for the translators. A person can have a translator in order to fight a traffic ticket; however, getting one for a child custody or divorce hearing is much more difficult.

The language access group will present a plan aimed at improving the accessibility of translators for family court in June. Until then, those who have a language barrier should speak with an experienced California family law attorney about getting a suitable translator for their child custody or divorce hearings.

Source: 89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio, "Lack of interpreters among the barriers to justice in California" Rina Palta, Mar. 04, 2014

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