Reopening the Family Courts Amid COVID-19


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, family courts around the country have found inventive ways of implementing technology, in order to host hearings for families in desperate situations.

Pandemics complicate divorce, child custody, child support, and spousal support situations, but as the courts begin to open up with strict health and safety guidelines and continue to host video conferenced hearings, men and fathers have been experiencing positive results.

Cordell & Cordell’s Virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and divorce highlighted these success stories and offered tips and strategies for those facing similar situations.

Introduction of virtual hearings

The Virtual Town Hall was led by Cordell & Cordell CEO, Managing/Executive Partner Scott Trout and a panel of attorneys from across the United States.

They described some of the ways that they have been able to assist their clients with divorce and move forward in their cases.

“If there’s any positives to come out of this horrible pandemic that we’ve all gone through, it is that the courts are now experimenting with other ways to proceed with cases, such as virtual hearings,” Cordell & Cordell Kansas Senior Litigation Attorney Brad Ward said. “Whether it is Zoom, WebEx, or some other means, courts are looking to move cases along.”

Backlog of cases

Much of the implementation of virtual hearings has been due to the urgency of those facing emotionally and financially devastating family law issues, amid COVID-19.

“It’s frustrating for those, not only going through these problems, but it’s been frustrating for the attorneys as well,” Mr. Ward said.

Depending on the area of the country, courts may be slower than a client may like, inspiring the frustration.

“Just like in California, Arizona has a huge backlog of cases right now,” Cordell & Cordell Arizona Litigation Attorney Alexus Mamwood said. “Judges are working with the parties to try to accommodate everyone when setting new hearings.

“We are encouraging our clients to take a second look at settling their cases. It’s my personal policy that settling a case is better, because it’s the only way you really have control over what your orders will be.”

Child custody conundrums

Even if the initial case is settled, changes may become necessary, especially with child custody issues. With how vulnerable immunocompromised individuals are, especially at a young age, custodial exchanges can become challenging if a co-parent refuses to comply with a court order.

Cordell & Cordell Maryland Litigation Attorney Ashley Ward dealt with a similar situation, where a child with a medical condition was being kept from a parent, using the courts. Ward and her client were able to prove in court that the travel, not the parent was the issue.

“In the time between actually having the hearing and going before the court, we were able to subpoena the doctor, speak to the doctor, see if the issue was travel or if the issue was actual access,” Ms. Ward said. “We were able to realize that the doctor only had issue with the child traveling, because she would be too far from treatment.

“But as long as my client was COVID-free, which he has tested negative and they were able to have access to a sanitized area, which ended up being a local hotel, the court was very pleased by what he had done, by how proactive we were, that he was able to have visits immediately that weekend.”

Resolving financial conflict

The COVID-19 pandemic has given attorneys new challenges to deal with, especially when a client’s financial future may be affected by the economic consequences of the crisis.

Cordell & Cordell North Carolina Senior Litigation Attorney Stephanie Horton highlighted a situation that unfolded, involving a wrapped equitable distribution trial. The client had agreed to pay an amount from his IRA, and with the economic downturn of the pandemic, the IRA’s decrease in value made the distribution of assets unequal.

“We filed for a leave under Rule 59 and Rule 60 in North Carolina,” Ms. Horton said. “We requested a new trial, to redistribute the property, or the alternative route, to request to relief from the order requiring he distribute the sum certain to his ex-spouse, as it was no longer fair.

“Given the COVID court closures and the opposing party’s need for the funds that were to be distributed to her, we were able to resolve the issue, and she actually agreed to terminate spousal support.”

Additional resources

Cordell & Cordell is continuing to produce monthly Virtual Town Halls and frequent podcasts to answer your questions about how the pandemic is impacting family law. You can find a full library of content on this topic on the Cordell & Cordell COVID-19 and Divorce Information Hub.

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