There is so much information now about the Coronavirus, that it is hard to wade through it all. With so many news stories, some true and some that stretch that truth, it is hard to know what is correct. As a Chicago family law attorneys, we are fielding many calls about the coronavirus and how it affects our clients’ cases. These are some of the most common questions I receive:
1. What is happening to my divorce or family law case now that the Courts are closed?
While the court is closed to the public, and you cannot walk in the door like you used to, the courts are still working. The Illinois courts are not closed. The procedures are different, but the courts are still open for business. Last week, I had several hearings that were conducted by Zoom. Some judges are only hearing the attorney’s arguments, and that might be done only with a phone call. In other instances, the lawyers and their clients are signing on to Zoom and a hearing with the client’s testimony is occurring. Our firm has also finalized quite a few cases this past week and clients have received their divorce. This is a good time to gather documents for discovery issues as well. New petitions are being presented to the court and hearings are being had to those issues.
You can file for divorce now and you can also have your emergencies heard by the court. Mediation is still possible, but again, it is done differently now. The court’s hearing or the mediations could be done with a phone call or conducted through Zoom.
In sum, the courts are up and operating, and issuing rulings on a wide range of matters.
2. My child should stay at home. Do I have to transfer my child to the other parent for parenting time during the coronavirus pandemic?
Except in some extraordinary situation, the general consensus is YES. The courts are making it clear to the attorneys that they expect court orders to be followed even during the coronavirus pandemic. There are times when you would not transfer your child-such as when your child is sick, but other than that, the court expects your parenting orders to be followed. Our family law firm has had a couple of hearings on the subject and the judges have made it clear that they want the custody orders followed.
This issue becomes more complicated when the other parent lives out of state. If your child used to get on a plane to go for parenting time, this is more worrisome for parents. If you cannot convince the other parent to accept some kind of make up time, then you’ll be required to follow the parenting order you have in place.
The courts where I have had a hearing on this very issue, are not persuaded that parenting time should be canceled if it involves extensive travel. All you can do is work with the other parent to do what is in your child’s best interests.
3. I received $500 from the government for my child. Do I have to share it with the other parent?
We have received a lot of questions about this issue over the past week. There is no set answer, but one thing to consider is your child’s expenses. If the money is being spent on your child in some way, there is a likelihood that this becomes a non-issue. You could spend the money on your child’s extracurricular activity or in the fall when it is time to sign your child up for school. Why not use it on your child and avoid the fight about who gets the money? However, if you are a parent that is owed past-due child support, I would think you could keep the money without too much argument. In the end though, if you had to take the matter to court to fight about it, your attorney’s fees will make this fight inequitable for you.
4. Does the coronavirus pandemic affect my child support obligation?
If you are working and still receiving compensation, the coronavirus pandemic does not affect your child support obligation. Others, however, can run into a problem paying child support if they are in a position where their income has decreased or their jobs have been eliminated. If you have lost your job, or your employer has forced you into limited hours which reduce your paycheck, it is imperative that you file a motion with the court asking for some relief.
If there is a child support order and you do not file a motion asking to change the amount owed, you will have to pay the full amount. The court’s hands will be tied if you do not file a motion. While having a conversation with your spouse about your new financial situation is important, it will not keep you from owing the entire amount at a later time if you do not file the motion.
The court is likely going to allow you to pay less money in child support if your employment position has changed. Make sure you make the court aware of the change in your employment.
5. The other parent isn’t practicing social distancing. What can I do?
Since the court is expecting you to follow the court order in place, you have to follow it. But if you can see that the other parent is not practicing social distancing correctly, your first course of action should be to speak to the other parent about your concerns. And be sure to put those concerns in writing. Depending on the answer from the other parent, you might need to file a motion with the court asking that parenting time be suspended at this time.
The law in Illinois presumes that parents act in their child’s best interest. You have to overcome that presumption with facts if you go to court. A parent’s admission that the child was out playing with kids in the neighborhood could be enough evidence to hold that parent accountable. If you are receiving information from your child about events that your child is involved in, that becomes harder since your child is now the witness.
Speak to your family lawyer about these events. Sometimes a letter to your spouse’s lawyer can resolve matters, but other times you will need the court to intervene.
In closing, we try to have our clients address parenting concerns with the other parent. We encourage them to try and work things out. Sometimes we will suggest mediation and sometimes we will suggest court intervention. It is important though to talk these things out with your family law attorney when no agreement is reached. All the staff at Anderson & Boback hopes that you are weathering this pandemic without too much turmoil and remember we are here for you, in whatever manner is needed to help you through this coronavirus crisis.