These are unprecedented times we are living in and with that comes questions about how to navigate pending issues within families such as custody/visitation and child support. The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the world is hitting New York particularly hard and making parents everywhere readjust to a whole new normal. While it is daunting and unknown, it isn’t hopeless.
Article written by Jessica H. Ressler. All rights reserved
The COVID situation has hit the country with what is essentially a quadruple punch. First, schools began to dismiss their students and switch to online classes for the remainder of the semester. That means millions of American children, from pre-school to seniors in high school, are home now, receiving their education virtually. Secondly, businesses began to shut down per government order, and all non-essential staff were sent home. For many people, this meant transitioning to working from home but for millions of Americans, it meant the loss of employment or limited income. The third punch is the almost complete shutdown of the court system. It is almost complete because the legal system is too important to shut down completely. However, while emergency and essential court cases are still being brought before the court, non-emergency matters are taking a back seat. And the final punch, the knockout, has been the virus itself. With over 113,000 people infected in New York alone, New Yorkers that are taking the threat seriously are practicing social distancing, cautionary measures and abiding by the “Stay At Home” order to keep from catching or spreading the virus.
So, what does all of this mean for existing child support and custody/visitation orders?
Essentially, millions of Americans are out of work at the moment, with no relief on its way. Despite the stimulus package promised by Washington, D.C., New Yorkers are finding themselves unable to pay their bills; and with that, comes the inability to pay child support. Additionally, and this goes hand-in-hand with custody/visitation, parents are hesitant to send their children outside to be exposed to the virus; even if “outside” is the other parent’s home. The result is a lot of families struggling to balance court-ordered stipulations like child support and custody/visitation with a world-wide pandemic that has everyone fearing for their lives, and rightfully so.
With the court system running the way it is at the moment- the suspension of all new filings, the doors of every courthouse in the city closed, emergency hearings heard virtually and minimal staff on the premises- there seems to be no recourse for family squabbles. When the legal system addresses a matter as “emergency,” it means life or death, and while child support and custody/visitation issues may feel like life or death to us, they simply do not qualify as such for the court. Criminal defense matters, child abuse, domestic violence and emergency orders of protection are the few items being heard by the court; all other matters are being delayed until we have returned to normalcy.
Unfortunately, everyone else with a non-emergency matter is being delayed as well. As such, when the court system is back to running at 100%, there will likely be a backlog of cases waiting to be filed or heard.
So, does this mean you are stuck in your situation? Absolutely not.
There are plenty of resources to assist you should you find yourself embroiled in a child support or custody/visitation issue during this pandemic. Businesses may be shut down, but attorneys are still working hard. Many attorneys are assisting their clients virtually, conducting Zoom or Facetime consultations and meetings; taking phone calls and preparing correspondence. Any issue with a court order, current or past case, or potential question can be answered by reaching out to an attorney and asking for help.
If you have lost your job and are struggling to make your child support payments right now, keep steady. Continue applying for another position, get your resume out there. Use your contacts and network. There are millions of Americans in the same boat but that doesn’t mean you won’t find something lucrative. At the very least, compile your search as evidence to the court so that when things return to normal, you can demonstrate that you made a good faith effort to look for gainful employment and continue making your required payments.
And speaking of good faith- if you have something, anything, to put towards a payment, pay it. Give what you reasonably can because when it’s all said and done, the court will see that you did what you could. While no one knows how everything pending now will be resolved when the pandemic is over, showing the court that you made a good faith effort to pay your obligations every month could only serve to benefit you later.
Though it is never a good idea to violate a court order, common sense and vigilance must take precedence in times like these. The threat of illness is very real and very scary, and if there is a reason to be concerned about potential exposure during visitation, this concern must be taken seriously.
Above all else, communication has and will always be the number one way to ensure peace is maintained. Situations that arise during this pandemic can be worrisome and feeling like there is no solution readily available can make it worse. It’s important to remember that while tensions rise, keeping calm and cordial should be the goal. No matter how stressful it gets or how difficult it feels, there is always a remedy, even if it seems as though there isn’t. Patience and tenacity are key to overcome the difficulties developing from a global pandemic and by keeping our wits about us will definitely help us all come through it in one piece.
If you have any concerns about a custody/visitation or child support issue, feel free to contact our office to schedule a consultation.