When you are going through a divorce, you have to illustrate to the courts your abilities as a parent. You have to show them how attentive you are. You have to show them how involved in your child’s life you are, and you have to show how much you care, even if the family courts are closed, due to a global pandemic.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has closed family courts across the United States, but that does not mean that you, as a parent dealing with divorce, child custody or child support issues, cannot do something about it.
Even if it may not yield instantaneous results, it is vital that you make your issues known to the courts right away, according to Cordell & Cordell attorneys.
File with family courts immediately
Cordell & Cordell is producing a free weekly webinar series and daily podcasts about the family law issues the Coronavirus pandemic is raising. During the April 16 webinar, the firm’s divorce attorneys discussed how imperative it is for parents facing parenting time reduction during the pandemic to file with the family courts in their state.
“There is nothing preventing anybody from filing, certainly in emergencies,” Cordell & Cordell Florida Litigation Manager Alison K. Morriss said. “Depending on which county it is in Florida, some counties are doing all of their hearings, not just emergency issues, not just urgent issues. They’re hearing anything, either by phone or through Zoom hearings.”
The perception of what a closed court means may affect you and your ability to defend your custodial rights and your case, but you need to be aware that in many states and jurisdictions across the United States, your situation can be heard, so long as you take the proper steps.
“The courts physically are closed,” Morriss said. “But certainly, the judges and the judicial assistants in all of our offices are open. We’re able to take action.”
Staying in the marital home
Staying close to your children can be difficult if a divorce already was on the horizon, when the Coronavirus pandemic began. Cordell & Cordell CEO Managing/Executive Partner Scott Trout often advocates for men and fathers to not leave the marital home. However, he also understands that there are circumstances that can prevent that from being feasible.
“There’s exceptions to when I tell guys not to move out of the house,” Trout said. “When I am talking to guys during our seminars, I tell them ‘Look, if there’s domestic violence [against you], you can leave with the kids.”
However, with the Coronavirus and shelter-in-place orders affecting the dynamics of the marital home as a separation is occurring, it can be even more detrimental for you and your future, to leave.
“What the courts are looking for in Utah [the state he is licensed in] is what’s happened from when you guys separated until whenever you get into court,” said Cordell & Cordell Regional Managing Attorney Doug Anderson. “The reality of the situation we’re in even now is that I feel like it’s more important not to move out, because a court could attribute that as ‘Hey, you abandoned your kids.’ ”
Anderson understands how this pandemic has empowered parents, who do not wish to be effective co-parents for the sake of their children.
“Coronavirus has given parents, if there’s not a current court order, this ability to deny parenting time, and if they deny parenting time and you’re losing parenting time from when you move out to whenever you get to present your case in a hearing, that could go very negatively on your side,” Anderson said. “It could hurt your case substantially.”
Risks of parental alienation
With only having access to one parent, parental alienation can be a cause for concern, when there is no court order in place. With a shelter-in-place order being enforced and a global pandemic underway, it can increase the risk and damage the relationship you have with your children.
“What we’re dealing with now with COVID-19, it’s going to lengthen the time that you’re not going to be able to see your kids, because you’re not going to be able to get into the court as quickly as we used to,” Anderson said. “But that parental alienation is just easier for someone to do, based upon what is happening.”
This can make your case even harder, due to the challenges surrounding proving the syndrome’s presence in your situation.
“The difficulty is always proving it,” Anderson said. “Because the courts, from my experience, are always trying to find a happy medium. Parental alienation is one of the worst things you could do to your own children, so the courts don’t like to believe it’s happening.
“Usually to prove it, you’ve got to get some kind of expert involved, which is going to increase the cost of the case, and that expert has to take time to meet with the children, meet with the parents, and it’s a very difficult process. Sometimes, even the expert miss it, because it’s something that’s so hard to prove. It’s so hard to know what’s happening in Mom’s house when you’re not there.”
Financial need to modify
You also may be facing child support or alimony issues, related to the Coronavirus pandemic. According to CNBC and the Department of Labor, over 22 million individuals have lost their jobs, due to the virus, and you may be like many who can no longer afford their current responsibilities.
During the webinar, Cordell & Cordell Maryland Litigation Attorney Kumudha Kumarachandran encouraged those facing these challenging circumstances to file for modification as soon as possible.
“Alimony and child support go back to the date that you actually file” Kumarachandran said. “So if you lost your job, get in contact with an attorney and try and file for a modification of child support, so that the court is on notice. It’s not willful.
Willfully disobeying the order of child support or alimony can hurt your case, regardless of a pandemic, which is why it is important to let the court know the circumstances that you face and file.
“If your child’s mother decides to take you to court for missed arrears when you’ve lost your job, the court is going to look for whether or not it is willful,” Kumarachandran said. “Try to make good faith efforts. Pay what you can, and show that you’re making an effort.”
This is important, because many states have regulations in place, in order to punish parents, who attempt to avoid child support through their unemployment status.
“In Maryland, we have something called voluntary impoverishment, which means the court can impute an income to you, if you are unemployed because you don’t want to pay child support,” Kumarachandran said. “So you really do want to show the courts with your job search and that you’re trying to find new work, that you’re making an effort.”
Custodial fathers need child support, too
If you are a father with primary custody, you may not be used to asking for financial help, but regardless of the Coronavirus pandemic and your employment status, you are just as entitled to child support as a mother with primary custody is.
“What I’ve noticed having mostly male clients is that they don’t like to ask for child support when they are the primary custodian,” Kumarachandran said. “More often than not, they are entitled to more than they think. Now may be the time, if you are unemployed. You may have been too proud to ask for something in settlement, but now is not the time to let your children have to feel the brunt of that.”
Quelling concerns and contacting your attorney
Protecting your children always should be your primary concern, but during the Coronavirus pandemic, that concern may lead to panic. During this time, it is imperative that you quell that panic with knowledge.
Learn more about the health and economic concerns related to your area of the country, and if your children ask about the pandemic, speak to them honestly, but in a way that they understand, dependent upon their age and maturity.
If you are facing concerns related to child custody, divorce, child support, alimony, or paternity, find out more about your state regulations, and contact a family law attorney as soon as your issues arise. They can help navigate you through the unique challenges of both your case and how it may be affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
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Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.