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FAMILY LAW IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

Protective Orders:

While the Court’s are generally closed, they are open for certain emergencies. One of those emergencies is protective order requests. If someone has engaged in an act which puts you in fear for your health and/or safety, call the police to have it investigated, and then call us so that we can help you pursue your protective Order.

Custody and visitation agreements – What is your obligation?

It is not clear how the Court’s will handle issues of people refusing to engage in visitation. Until there is an absolute lockdown ordered, we believe Courts are more likely to want to see people abide by the last order of the Court absent extenuating circumstances.

The best interest of the children, and therefore their health, is always of paramount concern for the Court. If someone is sick with Covid-19 symptoms, no doubt the Court would want both parents to work together to protect minor children. However, we will expect the Court to be extremely disappointed in parents that would exploit this disease to unreasonably deny a parent visitation or parenting time with their child.

Ultimately, what is best, is for the parents to work together to reasonably maximize contact between the children and both of their parents and extended family, while taking reasonable steps to protect their health.

Each case will no doubt vary, and we are here to answer your questions. In most cases, it is likely advisable to reduce any variations to current agreement and/or orders to writing. Reducing a modification to writing will likely save all the parties from an expensive and painful dispute later.

Divorce – You do not necessarily have to be stuck being married?

While it is true that Court’s are not conducting unnecessary hearings, and therefore not conducting most divorce hearings, there is still a lot to be done. Now is a great time to exchange information voluntarily and reach an agreement. While Court’s are not conducting hearings, we are finding that they are entering Consent Orders. As a result, we believe that many Judges will enter no- fault Divorce Decrees.

For those that cannot reach an agreement, we also believe that we can probably file divorces, and begin the process of gathering information necessary to bring the matter to a successful conclusion when the Courts do re-open. The reality is that most of the work in a divorce is done outside of the Courtroom, through the process of discovery where parties gather their records (bank, business, pay, etc.). Now is a great time to start the process as a lot of people are home and able to reach out to banks and businesses for this information. Not to mention, a lot of attorneys are more reachable now as well since the Courts are closed for most types of hearings

Child and Spousal Support – FILE NOW

If you have been laid off or you have suffered a dramatic reduction in your income, you should consider file a motion to amend your child and/or spousal support – and you need to do it NOW. When the Court finally does reopen, under the law it can typically only reduce and/or increase your obligation retroactive to the time you filed. While it may take months to actually have a hearing, you will want to have filed your motion now so that you do not accumulate an arrearage of support due to your inability to pay.

An agreement between you and the recipient of support is NOT enough. You need to file, and if you work out an agreement then you will likely need to file that as well – and as soon as possible to avoid any unnecessary arrearages. Too many times over the years, we have had clients who have even, by agreement with their ex transferred custody to themselves, only to have their ex take them to Court on a contempt action on a huge arrearage -that accumulated while they had custody of the children. That’s right, a parent who voluntarily agrees to take primary care of their children, who was paying child support at the time, can be brought back to Court later on a contempt action for not paying support, if they do not get an Order entered terminating their obligation.

Even if the Court clerk’s offices are closed, we can still file for you to preserver your right to a retroactive award.

Contempt

Unfortunately, many people are going to use this time to unreasonably breach their obligations under Court orders and Agreements. Just because the Courts are generally closed, does not mean you should not do anything. You should be considering filing now, and we can do that for you.

Some matters the Court may be willing to hear. Further, even though the Court may not be willing to hear your case now, it is important to let your ex know that you are not going to tolerate the breach. You do that by filing and at least getting in line when the Courts do reopen.

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