April 7, 2020
Kelly A. Lonnberg
Member, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC
These are difficult times, for many families as well as businesses. People are worried about their family’s health, the economy, their savings, their jobs. All this forced togetherness can cause unexpected stress. Family law attorneys are expecting domestic violence incidents to increase.
For parents not residing together, there are battles already waging over whether exchanges should happen as previously anticipated. It is a school week, but the children aren’t in school. What does that mean for a parenting schedule? Parents do not agree on how to apply social distancing measures for their children. A parent has been exposed and is being quarantined for two weeks- what kind of contact will the parent be able to have with the child? One parent remains at work, while another is laid off, or working from home. What impact should that have on parenting time?
Courts are limiting hearings to emergencies. Many of these issues, although of grave and immediate concern to families, may not reach the level of “emergency” that will allow individual attention by the judge. That means we have to be creative, and cooperative. We will have to create our own solutions, rather than receiving answers from the person in the black robe (who does not know your children or all of your circumstances). Maybe, just maybe, this is not a bad thing.
There are more questions than answers at this point, but many family law attorneys, judges and mental health professionals are working to reach consensus on how to advise our clients. I would like to share with you some thoughts that have come from the many discussions I have been involved in over the course of the last two weeks.
The Order of application should be:
• Governmental Orders
• Court Order in your case
• Governmental advisories
• Other authoritative sources such as CDC, WHO, respected University Hospitals (not Facebook).
You have obligations, your co-parent has rights, and vice versa. This is not a one-way street. Obligations under your court order remain in effect. If exchanging a child is unsafe due to illness or vulnerability in either family’s home, the parents may wish to file an agreement signed by both parents for a modification or make up time.
An emergency petition can be filed if no agreement can be reached. Your attorney can advise you on whether your issue is likely to be approved for hearing before the courts reopen for normal business. Reach out to your attorney or a mediator to try to resolve issues by agreement if at all possible. Child support is still owed. If you have lost your income and truly cannot make full payments, pay what you can, and file a petition for temporary modification, or make a plan for repayment. Any decisions made by a parent to unilaterally effect support or timesharing will likely be scrutinized at some point in the future, so caution should be exercised.
Protection Order petitions can still be filed, and they can be submitted electronically. For Indiana Courts, there is a tutorial for online filing: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/tutorials/efile-po-efsp/#/. In Indiana protection order hearings are considered emergencies and are continuing to be held.
Communication is key. If a child has health issues, a parent has had exposure or is ill, or work schedules affecting parenting time have changed, that information should be shared. If parents cannot have productive phone conversations, or there needs to be a record made, use email or an app such as Our Family Wizard.
Keep the conversations factual, nonconfrontational, and on topic. If you find yourself starting a sentence with, “you always…”, or “you never…”, or “remember three years ago when…”- delete it. Do not have any substantive conversations in the presence of children or let them read your exchanges with your co-parent.
Show grace in this stressful time, for your children. You are their role model for how to handle stress. What do you want them to learn from you during this crisis?
Below are links to the family law COVID-19 orders from the Indiana and Kentucky Supreme Courts.
Stoll Keenon Ogden understands that these are trying times for our clients and our country. Our firm operations have continued uninterrupted and our attorneys are equipped to serve as we always have – for more than 120 years.
Attorneys with Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC’s Family Law Services group are happy to assist parents and family members.
Please also be sure to consult the Stoll Keenon Ogden Coronavirus Resource webpage for additional articles and information related to the latest information on new laws and directives enacted by federal, state, and local governments in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.