COVID-19 and Family Law: How does the global pandemic affect my family law case?
As of the date this is posted, all courts in Maryland are closed through April 3, 2020. Additionally, most of the family law services offered through courts, such as parenting classes, mediation, settlement conferences, are also postponed during this time. Here are some ways in which the pandemic may affect you and your family law case.
If your case is pending: Judges are on staff at the courthouses, so if you have a pending motion or pleading that is ripe for ruling, the court should still be making timely rulings. Timing for filing answers and other timelines governed by the Maryland Rules are generally still applicable. E-filing via MDEC is unaffected by the court closure, however, if e-filing is not available, there is a drop-box in every court to accept paper filings.
If your case was postponed: Cases scheduled between March 17, 2020 and April 3, 2020 have been automatically postponed by the court. Courts are working diligently to reset all of these cases, and courts will notify parties and their attorneys of the new dates.
If one party is in breach of an agreement or order: If one party is in breach of a court order (for instance not following the custody access provision), you can still file to enforce the order. The hearing may get set out further than it normally would, but you are not precluded from filing to enforce a court order during this time.
While courts are closed, there are other resources available to try to resolve a conflict, such as private mediation, or utilizing a parent coordinator. Given the recent pandemic and the increased need for “social distancing,” we are offering services remotely – via video conferencing, or conference call.
Law enforcement may be able to assist in enforcing a clear provision of a custody order, but you always want to balance this option with the impact it will have on the children, especially during this time of instability.
What if custody exchanges are supposed to happen at school?: Many times, custody exchanges occur at school for a variety of reasons (safety, parents not wanting to interact with each other, convenience for the child, etc.). As of the time of this writing, all schools in Maryland are closed for the next week, and there is a chance it may be longer.
Police stations can serve as a place to do a custody exchange if safety is a concern. Just call your local precinct, explain the situation, and ask if they are willing to accommodate the transfer.
If you feel comfortable, agree to an alternate exchange location with the other parent. If one parent drops the child off at the other parent’s house, and both parties feel safe, neither parent even needs to interact with the other, the child can just go from the car to the front door.
Parties can agree to change the schedule. So long as the parties are in agreement, it may make sense to alter the schedule – for instance, if one parent needs to work from home, and the other parent needs to still go into an office.
Do not let the confines of a custody order or agreement limit you from co-parenting and reaching an alternative agreement during this difficult time. Be flexible, and make sure any alteration to a custody order is agreed to by both parties, in writing.
If you can’t pay your child support: First and foremost, make sure you are open and honest with the other parent and the office of child support enforcement if you are in a situation where you can’t pay your child support. If you cannot make the whole payment owed, pay whatever you can, and keep a clear record of any amount paid so there is no dispute in the future that payments were made. Arrears will continue to accrue until there is a modified Order changing the amount owed. If your income has changed dramatically since child support was calculated, you may be able to file for a modification of that amount. However, until a court orders otherwise, you are still obligated to pay the amount in the order, even if you lose your job.
This is a confusing time, and many of us are being faced with circumstances we never anticipated. We are here to help, whether it is offering our services remotely, or helping navigate the legal system during this time of constant change and instability.
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If you have questions about child custody during this unprecedented time, please email Laurie Wasserman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our main number 410-842-1070. For the foreseeable future, we will work remotely and be available by telephone and virtually to serve our clients. We will be in touch with any clients impacted by the Court's closing as soon as we have more information. If you are a client who is having issues with custody/access during the quarantine, please do not hesitate to reach out.
If you are in a domestic abuse situation and need help, please call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522. Domestic abuse is a serious matter and can be heightened during times like now, where we are encouraging social distancing and quarantine. Our attorneys will continue to handle domestic violence cases throughout this time. Courts are still open to handle these important proceedings.