The breakneck speed at which COVID-19 has spread across the United States has shocked the entire nation, especially in locations that are seeing exponential community transmission such as New York and New Jersey. At the risk of overusing a phrase, the situation on the ground is rapidly changing every day. It’s a time of enormous uncertainty, in terms of the economy, public health, and our daily lives.
That goes for how the pandemic is impacting – and will continue to impact – major concerns in the area of family law. Although our eyes are glued to the COVID-19 situation, there are also a lot concerns on how to manage family court, and child custody and child support needs.
COVID-19 in New Jersey
Currently, New Jersey has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the United States. Over 1,900 cases have been confirmed by testing as of March 22, including 20 deaths. Prior to this, New Jersey was under a State of Emergency declaration.
To stem the viral tide and help manage medical resources, Governor Phil Murphy has ordered New Jersey residents to shelter in place as of March 21. Residents are allowed to leave their homes only for essential tasks such as visiting the grocery store, pharmacies, banks, and healthcare facilities. Residents may also leave their homes to work in essential industries and for outdoor exercise.
For those who are going through the divorce process or who share co-parenting responsibilities, you may be wondering how these needs are affected by these requirements.
Family court, divorce and COVID-19
Divorce is a process that can involve a fair amount of face time with others: attorneys, therapists, mediators, financial advisors. However, during the ongoing COVID pandemic, the following courts are closed:
- All Union County municipal court matters are postponed through April 26th
- All New Jersey courts are closed until further notice
The courts are making every effort to handle matters by phone or video conference. While court offices are closed for in-person submissions, filings and court-ordered payments may be submitted electronically or by email.
However, there are alternatives. Mediation can be a great solution for those that do not want to jump right into litigation but instead wish to have an amicable discussion around a “virtual” table so to speak. To help keep your family’s life moving forward, we’re offering the option of mediation via video conferencing.
Child Custody Issues
Your child’s safety is paramount at this time. It’s absolutely understandable to be reluctant to move your child from a safe location, even if you’re required to as part of a shared custody arrangement. Communication is essential right now. Discuss your concerns with your ex to come up with shared expectations for handling co-parenting at this time.
My ex and I have joint custody. Will the current restrictions change my child custody arrangement?
Although the state is under a “shelter in place” order and a State of Emergency declaration, these actions don’t nullify any outstanding court orders. This means that all custody and parenting time orders are expected to be followed as designed.
My kids are home from school and my ex and I are working from our homes. What does this mean for childcare?
Although school cancellations have thrown parents for a loop, they don’t factor into child custody arrangements. If neither of you have been exposed and you continue to take the precautions recommended by the CDC and WHO, it’s reasonable to continue your shared custody schedule. With school cancellations affecting so many people, it may be especially helpful to continue your schedule so your child can have a sense of normalcy through their old routine.
What happens if one of us is exposed to COVID-19?
If you or your spouse has been exposed to COVID-19, the first thing to do is evaluate your symptoms and medical care options. Individuals who are exposed should self-quarantine. If your children didn’t share the exposure, they shouldn’t be part of the quarantine, though. It’s advisable to carefully discuss your options for maintaining communication between your ex and your children during this period.
All locations are closed! How can I submit my child support payment?
While in-person payment isn’t an option right now, there are a number of online options that will allow you to stay on schedule with your child support. The New Jersey Department of Human Services has a website listing your options. Please note that some of the options for paying cash with participating retailers may not be available at this time.
Should I expect a delay in my child support payments?
No, child support payments continue to be processed and are being mailed out on time.
What can I do if my child support hearing has been postponed due to COVID-19?
While the courts are working to handle as many matters as possible through tele- or videoconference, there may be delays as everyone adjusts to our new situation. If you have questions about your hearing, speak with your attorney to discuss what you might need to do to keep the process on track.
If you’re concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on your family law matter, get in touch. We’re working through every possible avenue to help our clients and continue to keep making progress with their matters.