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How Does The COVID-19 Pandemic Impact My Divorce Or Child Custody Case?
March 30, 2020
I already have a hearing set in my divorce or child custody case. Am I still going to court during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Possibly. The state and local courts suspended all in-person proceedings on March 16, 2020. Initially, the courts closed until April 16, 2020, but as with other deadlines it may become necessary for this date to change. If you have a court date between now and April 16, 2020 you will likely receive an Order continuing your hearing to a later date. Please be mindful that news surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is changing every day, which means the Supreme Court of Alabama could shorten or extend this timeline.
The courts have cancelled most in-person proceedings for a time, but some courts are still holding hearings by either teleconference or video-conference (for example, by Zoom or Microsoft Teams). If your Judge is able to set up one of these alternatives, you will likely receive an Order with specific instructions on how to participate. Since most Orders are mailed to all parties, it is important to ensure that the court has your current mailing address. You can confirm this by calling the Clerk’s Office in the county where your case is pending.
Are there any exceptions to the in-person proceedings suspension?
Yes. If you are a victim of domestic violence and have filed or need to file for protection from abuse, the courts may hold in-person proceedings on Petitions for Protection from Abuse. Additionally, if you have an emergency related to child custody and/or child protection (including if the Department of Human Resources is involved), the courts may hold in-person proceedings to hear those matters as well.
My workplace closed…My employer reduced my hours and pay…My household went from two salaries down to one…Now money is tight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Do I still have to pay my child support?
Regardless of how long the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our lives, your child requires his or her basic needs of food, shelter and care to be met. You should carefully consider the available resources you have that can help you continue to make your child support payments. With that being said, when there are changes in circumstances – including a change in the financial situation of one parent – that parent may petition the court to modify his or her child support order.
Be mindful that the Department of Labor has recently expanded unemployment benefits to cover individuals who are experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. These benefits extend to individuals that would not have previously been covered. For more information on these changes, please visit https://capellhoward.com/ or call Capell & Howard at 334-241-8000 and ask for one of the lawyers in our employment section.
What Effect Will There Be On My Stimulus Check
The U.S. government recently acted to provide stimulus checks to qualifying Americans to help with the difficult economic situation. Since 1996, a law has been in place that allows the government to collect past-due child support from tax refund checks. This might have you wondering whether past-due child support is going to be taken out of your stimulus check. The answer is: yes, it will be.
There is a Status Quo Order or a Pendente Lite Order currently in place. Does the COVID-19 pandemic change that Order?
No. You should continue to comply with all prior orders of the court. If your order restricts what assets may be used and/or transferred while your divorce is pending (for example, bank accounts, houses, land, cars, etc), be careful about what items you try to sell, what credit card debt you may incur, what bills may go unpaid, and what emergency financial resources you might access. The COVID-19 pandemic does not excuse mismanagement or irresponsible use of marital property. Additionally, if your order requires you to keep health insurance coverage on your child, you must continue to do so even if your employment changes.
The Governor closed public schools for the remainder of the school year, but some school districts are continuing with distance learning. How do we handle childcare if what we need to do is different than our Custody Agreement or Pendente Lite Order?
Judges across Alabama encourage co-parenting. During this time of uncertainty and departure from your child’s “normal” routine, it is more important than ever to make sure your child feels safe. Whether you are already divorced, or your divorce is pending, it is crucial that parents work together and cooperate with each other to share in childcare responsibilities, including alternating custodial time, and overseeing completion of schoolwork.
If you are already divorced, look to your Custody Agreement or Divorce Decree to see whether it includes a provision that permits parents to agree to alter custodial time. After you have a Pendente Lite Order in place, have an open discussion with your child’s other parent to determine how you can work together to meet your child’s needs during this time, even if that looks different than what is in your existing Order. Put agreements in writing so that there’s no confusion later about what your plan is during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have other questions, but I cannot find them on this list.
If you have questions about what to do while your divorce is pending, call Capell & Howard at 334-241-8000 and ask for one of our domestic relations attorneys: Bob Meadows, Allen Sheehan, Faith Twiggs, or Blake Brookshire.
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