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I have an active family court case – What does the COVID-19 Shelter in Place order mean for me?

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The current health crisis is impacting many people all over the world. An overwhelming amount of people with current family law orders or pending cases are asking the question, what does this Shelter-In-Place order mean for me and my shared custody/visitation agreement? Attorneys are working to advise clients as best as they can during this unprecedented situation. The below commentary is a compilation of discussions with other attorneys as we all try and provide some guidance on how parents should view this situation.

COVID-PARENTING

First and foremost, as best as you can, try not panic because it often trickles down to your children. More than ever it is important to remain calm and collected in front of your kids. You can talk to them about the situation, but be reassuring.

Second, you must remember that this is not the time to try and reinvent the wheel in your case. Orders are in place for a reason, and when you cannot reach an alternative agreement, order must be followed. We have no reason to believe right now that the Shelter-In-Place Order classifies travel for court ordered visitation between co-parents as “non-essential.”

COVID-19 is not a reason to withhold or interfere with visitation. More than ever your children need routine and the support of both parents. Unless a member of one parent’s household or the parent has been exposed or tested positive, then visitation should go on as ordered.

Third, work together on educational tasks for your kids. Make sure both parents are getting information from the school. If you are the main point of contact with your child’s school, then make sure the other parent has full access to online learning platforms, work packets, and any guidance coming from the teachers.

Go to the following link for suggested guidelines for separated parents during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Click Here

WHAT HAPPENS TO MY HEARING? WHAT IF I HAVE AN EMERGENCY?

The Family Justice Center may be closed to most people, but if you have an emergency, such as a need for a Restraining Order, the Courts are still accepting those types of filing.

Remember, though, this is an emergency by court standards – meaning either the need to obtain a new Domestic Violence Restraining Order to protect yourself and your children, or obtaining an emergency order due to imminent threats to the safety and welfare of your children.

Not wanting your child to spend time with their other parent because of a general concern about the spread of COVID-19 is not an emergency at this time.

If you had a court hearing scheduled between now and April 7, 2020, then it is very likely the court has moved your hearing to a date farther in the future. If you are unsure, you can contact your attorney or call the court clerk’s office to obtain the updated information. The Santa Clara County Court website has more detailed information.

WHAT DOES COVID-19 MEAN FOR OTHER ASPECTS OF MY CASE?

We at Hepner & Pagan LLP recognize that this is a very uncertain time in all of our lives. Stocks, homes, and retirement accounts have lost value and we are not yet done seeing this crisis through. As a result, it may be time to re-evaluate your case and consider a new approach.

What does this mean? Well, we understand that incomes are affected as well as assets. Litigation is expensive and you may not be able to keep up with attorney fees like you did before. You have options.

We at Hepner & Pagan LLP do more than litigation and offer alternative dispute resolution options.

Mediation is an important tool which allows you and your ex to sit in the same room with a neutral attorney and discuss your case face to face. Often this is a very useful tool to see the realities of the case and work toward a common outcome. This is a way to minimize and share the expense of an attorney while moving your case forward to a final judgment. It also reduces animosity and removes the need to appear in front of a judge. With all the uncertainty at this time, putting aside differences to find a way to move forward may be the best option for you.

You will be okay. Everyone is having to identify a new normal these days. If you are concerned, or not sure what to do, talk to your attorney or set up a free phone consultation to get some peace of mind.

Hepner & Pagan, LLP is still available to take your call.

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