COVID-19, also called the coronavirus, has had a major impact on millions of families. It has also greatly affected family law. The family courts in California have had to drastically change the way they do things. Furthermore, the pandemic has altered the way family life looks for the average person. It has led to necessary changes in custody arrangements as well as financial obligations for many spouses. Get the facts on all the latest family law issues related to COVID-19.
How Has Custody Changed?
Federal social distancing, isolation and quarantine guidelines may make it impossible to continue with a family’s typical custody arrangement. Transferring a child to different households could also be unsafe while the COVID-19 virus is still active. An immunocompromised child, for example, may have to stay in one place for optimal safety. If one parent works in a high-risk environment, such as a hospital, that parent may also be unable to fulfill his or her custody obligation. Children being at home instead of school or daycare could also impact custody.
Whenever possible, parents should try to follow their custody orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus does not give a parent the legal right to break his or her custody obligations. If you or your child has an extenuating circumstance, agree to a temporary alternative custody arrangement with your ex-spouse. You may need to go to a judge for an official change of order to protect your rights as a parent. If you or your ex miss meetings with your child due to COVID-19 concerns, you can make them up on a later date.
How Have Financial Obligations Changed?
Many families are going through great financial hardships due to changes brought about by the coronavirus. Millions of parents are temporarily out of work, for example, while state and county laws continue to only permit the operation of essential businesses. It may be possible to obtain a change in your financial support orders during this unusual time. If you need more money from your ex-spouse to care for children who are now home more often, for instance, you can petition the courts for an increase in child support.
Child support modifications are available in California to families who are undergoing challenges or changes in their financial situations. The loss of a job due to COVID-19 would qualify as a valid reason for a modification. In general, it is unwise to work out a child or spousal support modification with only your spouse. You must have a court-approved modification for the changes to officially take effect. Otherwise, you could still technically owe the full amount of support to your spouse and face penalties for not paying.
When Will the Family Courts Reopen?
The family courts in California are currently closed to in-person matters. Physical closures are necessary to combat the risks presented by COVID-19. However, they are still open to receiving new claims and petitions. If you need to submit a request for a custody or financial obligation order modification, you can do so through electronic submission, email, fax, mail or drop-box. Many judges in California are granting requests and issuing orders virtually, through technology such as videoconferencing. Emergency court actions, such as protection orders, will take priority.
You may need to wait until the reopening of the courts in California if you have a family law matter that requires a trial. Check your county courthouse’s website for details on when it will reopen. Most courthouses are reopening in May, with staggered dates for the slow reintroduction of in-person court processes. The Los Angeles County Superior Court, for example, is lifting its general closure order on May 12, 2020. The courts may only accept limited matters at first, then slowly reopen fully over the courts of several weeks. Contact a Los Angeles family law attorney for more information about how COVID-19 might impact your specific case.