The future of family law during COVID-19
By Lauren Fields
The future of family law is really unknown right now. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 disease a pandemic. On March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in the United States. Now it is a waiting game until a vaccine can be created to make COVID-19 more preventable and treatable. Most Health Organizations are recommending social distancing, wearing face coverings when in public, diligent and consistent hygiene, and following general guidelines to prevent the spread of germs and viruses. The questions that remain for individuals with divorce and family law cases include; how does this impact my custody arrangement? Can you still file for divorce? Does this put a hold on my domestic litigation? In Kansas, most courts are still working as effectively as ever. After a few hiccups and a brief learning period, the court system is now functioning almost completely remote with the exception of some counties who are able to have in person events. As the courts have adjusted their procedures and practices lawyers now have the ability to represent you in your Domestic Litigation needs from the very first filing all the way to the end result and we will be here with you every step of the way.
Although there is a lot of uncharted territory still being explored in the legal field during this global pandemic, the court system is working hard to utilize their technological access in order to keep the system working efficiently and effectively on a remote basis. Most hearings, status conferences and mediations are taking place through online web conference platforms to ensure that citizens have access to the court system. Some counties are still having court and mediations held in person which can be a concern for some, but they make sure to implement the recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus. Some mediators and counsels believe that the system is working effectively, however they want to stress the importance of taking these procedures seriously. Just because things are virtual does not justify them to be less important. They are still legal procedures that carry the full weight of the law and the judicial branch just without handshakes and in person contact.
One aspect of the court system that is still a work in progress is jury trials. The Kansas Supreme Court has – as recently as June – appointed an Ad Hoc Jury Task Force to make sure that when Jury Trials resume that they will be executed in an extremely safe environment for the parties involved, including jurors. Logistics and proper procedures are still being created for this new normal, but we will be sure to update you with more information as we receive it. Through this stressful time, the court has come to utilize technology quite regularly and has become quite familiar with the process in a tech format. We are confident that when jury trials and full in person court sessions resume, they will do so in a safe and regulated way to prevent the spread of the virus and to keep all employees and visitors healthy.
Similar to the court exploring uncharted territory during an international pandemic, co-parenting and shared custody agreements are in a confusing limbo but in the last six months, lots of progress has been made. Every day we are learning new information about this deadly virus and coming up with ideas of how to still keep life moving forward. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that civilians practice social distancing, wearing a mask in public places, and to stay at home if you are able in order to prevent the spread of the virus. The CDC further recommends that individuals go into quarantine if they contract this disease. Parents should continue to follow all court-ordered custody arrangements and parenting plans unless a child or a household member becomes infected with COVID-19. During parenting time exchanges, it is important to take all the precautions to ensure a safe environment for you as parents and for your child. Social distancing, wearing masks, keeping up with cleanliness and hygiene (washing hands, using hand sanitizer, sneezing and coughing into the bend in your arm, et. cetera) are very important things to keep in mind during exchange times. As parents, plan at-home activities during your parenting time instead of going to public places. Parents should disinfect and wash all items and clothing that are exchanged between households to prevent the possible spread of all germs and viruses. Unilaterally withholding parenting time without good cause can come with very severe consequences from the Judge and animosity from the other parent. As long as everyone in your household is healthy, your custody arrangement and parenting plan should resume as normal.
If a child or household member does exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, immediately call your doctor and set up a time to get tested. At that time, best practices are to follow all recommendations from your doctor, including quarantining if necessary. If the doctor recommends a quarantine period for the child at one parent’s house, the other parent should follow the doctor’s recommendations regarding any visitation. If the doctor recommends that a parent should go into quarantine, the other parent should assume custody of the child temporarily until the doctor recommends otherwise. Judges will rarely fault parents for following the recommendations of an accredited health-care professional, especially given the severity of this virus. Often, Judges and other court officials will defer to a physician’s orders during this time of the unknown. It is important to keep the health of others and your child at the forefront. If there is dispute as to what should be done if someone contracts the virus, listening to your doctor is one general rule of thumb that will likely not fail in the court system. However, if there is still confusion and conflict between parties, we can take those concerns to the judge and get a more solidified answer for all involved.
Even though you might not be aware of the processes, filing all kinds of domestic litigation can be done virtually through the courts secure online systems in order to reduce the possible exposure of COVID-19 in a court clerk’s office, Judge’s chambers or hearing room. If you do not have the ability to access the programs, we assure you that we will help find a way to make sure you are able to participate and be fully involved in the process and informed throughout your case. We want to assure you that no matter what your Domestic Litigation needs are, we here at Roth Davies, LLC can work your case from beginning to end. Lauren is excellent at keeping her clients involved in their case and up to date on everything that is happening through their legal battle. Even if you are at the very beginning stages of your Domestic Litigation process, we will represent you diligently throughout the entire duration of your case from custody battles that are a few years old to the very first filing in the process of a divorce.
At Roth Davies, we want to make sure that you feel a bit at ease with your legal needs, especially during such an unprecedented time. We will represent you rigorously and efficiently in order to get the results that you are looking for or to help you mediate with another party to come to a comprisable solution while keeping you safe and healthy in the meantime.
Lauren Fields is the lead domestic attorney at Roth Davies LLC.