For families in crisis, the ongoing pandemic just makes things worse. Here are 19 tips for your family during the COVID-19 crisis to help you through.
Tip No. 1: If you are negotiating a payment for spousal support or child support, make sure you think about using language in your agreement that leaves the issue open. Once you sign an agreement and enter a court order you are presumed to have included all the current circumstances into your settlement agreement. Talk to an attorney to make sure the language in your agreement accounts for the fact that anything can happen with your job and your income in the next few weeks during this crisis.
Tip No. 2: Need to meet with your attorney? Work remotely by secure video conference. We also offer a security, in-person COVID-19 consultation room at our office where you can meet privately with your attorney outside your home while still observing social distancing.
Tip No. 3: Does your child’s other parent live out of state? Remember your court-ordered visitation is not automatically suspended because of travel restrictions nationally or in your state. The fact that most courts are closed except for emergencies further complicates this. Talk to an attorney about your options in filing a temporary motion to address this issue.
Tip No. 4: Let’s say you are paying spousal support for a spouse who wasn’t working at the time of divorce. The law says the spouse getting support has a reasonable time to get a job or the paying spouse can request the court modify support. But what about now that the virus is making unemployment reach historic levels potentially? Consult with an attorney whether it is a good idea to file to modify support right now.
Tip No. 5: If you are traveling to pick up a child during the lock down, make sure you carry a copy of your PSA or court order in the event you are pulled over. The current executive orders for the most part allow travel for visitation exchanges.
Tip No. 6: Many custody orders require you make decisions on the vacations by a date certain. Remember that until your court order has changed you still have to comply with those deadlines. There is nothing wrong with taking your vacation time while still observing stay-at-home orders and social distancing. Most court orders don’t require travel to take your visitation time.
Tip No. 7: During the period court are closed if you get cut off financially from a malicious spouse you can still file an emergency motion if you are destitute. Talk to an attorney about possible options for doing this as quickly as possible.
Tip No. 8: Cutting off your spouse financially during the pandemic could come back to haunt you in a later case. Plus, if you have a stay-at-home spouse who cares for children, cutting off all their access to money only hurts your children.
Tip No. 9: Make sure you keep up with your child’s remote learning from their public school. Failure to do so could have ramifications in a future custody matter. Talk to an attorney about your obligations in this regard whether you are the custodial or non-custodial parent.
Tip No. 10: If you are going through a divorce and your spouse declares bankruptcy you can still litigate custody, visitation and support. Only division of property/debt is delayed. Talk to an attorney how you may be able to get relief from the bankruptcy court to litigate some or all of the property issues as well.
Tip No. 11: If your child has a pre-existing health condition it could be an issue that impacts your custody case if you expose them to unsafe conditions. Be careful. Talk to an attorney about how your particular job or activity may impact custody. Remember the Florida doctor who lost custody of her daughter temporarily while she was treating COVID-19 patients.
Tip No. 12: If your court date has not been set or you had a case removed from the docket, reschedule it quickly. The back log of cases is likely to push hearings months into the future and the sooner you get a new court date the better.
Tip No. 13: Until the stock market stabilizes, make sure you don’t sign an agreement with your spouse that doesn’t account for things getting worse. Many agreements to pay marital shares of stock-related assets could backfire greatly. Talk to an attorney about how you can structure a division of stock-based assets to account for the volatility.
Tip No. 14: Did your spouse threaten to or actually cancel your health insurance? In this pandemic could be an emergency. Courts are still hearing some emergency matters during the shutdown. Call an attorney immediately if you are without health insurance.
Tip No. 15: Does your child have special needs and/or an IEP? Keep in mind that federal law requires your local public schools to provide a free and appropriate education to your child even during this crisis. The school closure for the balance of the school year can have an impact on your child’s educational rights. Make sure you address this with your IEP team and to a special education lawyer if remote learning is not working for your client.
Tip No. 16: Don’t wait to file a motion to modify spousal support and/or child support. You should file as soon as the pandemic has caused a change in your circumstances to have a shot at your support change going back to the date you lost your job or income. Talk to an attorney about the possibility of retroactive payments or credits for support.
Tip No. 17: Does your child have a health issue like asthma but he/she is subject to court-ordered visitation? The CoronaVirus does not suspend court orders even in such instances. You have to file to modify visitation with the court if you can’t agree with your child’s other parent. Talk to an attorney about your options.
Tip No. 18: Working from home can be a major factor in a custody, whether it is temporary or permanent for you. Talk to an attorney about whether this factor could be a reason to modify your existing custody order or what impact it may have on your ongoing custody dispute.
Tip No. 19: Mental illness can be exacerbated by the circumstances surrounding stay-at-home orders and social distancing. Remember that mental health services are considered essential for the most part and are ongoing. Talk to an attorney about how to obtain services during the crisis.