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How COVID-19 is Affecting Pending Divorce and Family Cases

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Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every facet of our lives.  From tape marks and plexiglass in grocery store checkout lines to community-wide closures of schools and businesses, learning how to adjust to our new normal has been a challenge.   But, not everything has come to a standstill, as essential businesses are still allowed to function.  Law firms and the Courts are considered essential, and thus are permitted to remain in operation.  But, social distancing recommendations and concerns over community health have required us all to change our practices for the safety of our clients.

For pending divorce and family law cases, we’ve put together a short list of how COVID-19 has impacted what we do for our clients.

Non-Emergency Hearings

In Madison County, all family matters that were scheduled for hearing through May 22, 2020 have now been continued, pursuant to an Administrative Order entered March 30, 2020.  Surrounding jurisdictions have also implemented similar continuance orders.

These continuances affect not only the Case Management Conference dockets, but also the child support dockets and any special settings for divorce and custody cases.  As of now, it is anticipated that the impacted cases will all be set for “scheduling” or new CMC dates in June so that new setting dates can be requested.

Emergency Hearings and Orders of Protections

If you have a new emergency arising in your family case, the Court will allow you to file emergency motions on that issue.  For example, litigants are still permitted to file for Emergency Orders of Protection on an Ex Parte basis, as well as filing other emergency pleadings within their family case.  The Judge will decide whether the motion truly is an emergency warranting an immediate hearing.  Where possible, the Court is attempting to schedule hearings via telephone or videoconference.

If you previously had received an Emergency or Plenary Order of Protection, those orders have been extended automatically until the end of April 2020.  If you wish to seek emergency relief from those existing orders (i.e. the order was filed against you), you may still file a motion with the Court to have the matter heard.  The Judge retains discretion to schedule a hearing on your motion.

Temporary or Permanent Parenting Orders

If you have a temporary or permanent parenting order in place already, the Governor’s current stay at home Executive Order does not cancel court-ordered parenting time.  Read our previous BLOG article on this topic here.

My Case was almost over before this all started.  What now?

If your case was close to resolution and/or settles during the Court’s temporary shutdown, settlement documents and proposed Orders can still be filed electronically or emailed to the Judge for signature and entry.   We are experiencing delays with getting file-stamped documents back from the Court due to reduced staffing, but we also understand the Clerks are working diligently to process these.   Regardless of the delays in getting stamped documents, the important fact is that cases can still be resolved and closed during this period.

Special COVID-19 Financial Considerations

With COVID-19 relief programs and federal stimulus rolling out daily, we are seeing direct impacts on financial issues involved in family cases.  Specifically:

  1. Tax Filings: Each Spring, filing taxes ends up being one of the issues we’re discussing a lot for divorcing spouses and/or for parents who are looking for direction on who will be claiming child tax credits.  The IRS has extended the filing deadline to July 15, 2020, and this has given us a little more time to hash out these discussions with the Court once they reopen.
  • Stimulus Checks:  Many Americans are receiving stimulus payments via direct deposit into their bank accounts.  For divorcing spouses who may not be sharing a bank account at the moment, the question of who is going to receive the check and/or how it’s going to be divided has been a hot topic in recent weeks.  For pending cases, many attorneys are negotiating how the stimulus checks will be divided (in some fashion).  Alternatively, they are agreeing to place the funds into “escrow” until it’s determined how those funds will be divided.
  • Unemployment/Reduced Incomes:  It’s no secret that unemployment rates have spiked.  Many people are facing a complete loss of income, particularly those in the service industries.  Others are seeing salaries or benefits cut by their employers to offset losses of company revenue.  Regardless of the reason, changes in income can impact a litigant’s ability to pay maintenance or child support.  Alternatively, sudden unemployment can put a litigant in a position where they now need support from their ex in order to meet basic needs.

Attorneys are Still Hard At Work during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Because law firms are considered essential businesses, family law attorneys are still working during this time.  While many of our colleagues have instituted changes to how they are performing in-office operations, the family law attorneys in this area are continuing to practice nonetheless. 

At Strieker Law Firm, we have been operating virtually since March 16, 2020.  What this means is that the majority of our operations are being done remotely via video conferencing, phone calls, and email communications with our clients.   As a paperless law firm, we’ve been able to transition seamlessly into remote working so as to minimize any impact COVID-19 has had on our clients cases.  In fact, other than the fact we’re not physically in the office, not a lot has changed.    However, we have appreciated our clients’ cooperation and understanding if/when our children have “participated” in phone conferences in the background. 🙂

How COVID-19 Closures Could Help My Case

Despite our own changes to our operations and those of our colleagues, what we’ve found is that many of the local practitioners have come together to still attempt to keep cases moving despite the cancellation of court hearings.  Whether it’s been via phone conferences with the Judge or virtual settlement negotiations, COVID-19 has not stopped us from still working diligently and advocating for our clients’ interests in every case. 

In many instances, this “downtime” with the Courts has provided the right amount of incentive to come together to settle cases that were otherwise heading toward an expensive trial.  In others, we’ve been able to use the pause in Court appearances to get caught up on discovery production or to touch base with clients on documents they are still reviewing.   For cases that are just being filed, the first 30-60 days of the case don’t usually need much Court involvement at all, so doing those preliminary steps now while the Courts are operating on a limited basis can be beneficial.

If you have questions about how COVID-19 is impacting your pending family law case, do not hesitate to reach out to us for guidance or assistance.