divorce, separation, relationship

Updated Guidance on Divorce and Custody During and After Covid-19

This is an extremely trying time for everyone dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.  Families spending so much time together at home, coupled with potential changes in income, employment, childcare schedules, health, and other unforeseen circumstances, can take a significant toll on a marriage. For those contemplating a divorce, or in the midst of one, or trying to enforce or modify prior divorce orders, please consider the following regarding the current status of divorce cases in Connecticut family courts.  Moreover, whether initiating divorce proceedings, tending to a pending divorce, or enforcing or modifying a past divorce order, we are here to help.  The best way to confront anxiety is with action.  For this time, we have shifted our initial consultations to electronic meetings at a discounted rate.

Filing a New Divorce

Although the courts are currently limited in the type of family matters being heard, new divorces can still be filed now. In fact, it can be advantageous to get the process started sooner rather than waiting to file amidst the flood of cases that are likely to be filed when the courts are back to their regular schedule. Further, the earlier your case is filed, the sooner the court’s Automatic Orders will go into effect, which limit both parties from making any significant changes to any of their assets without the consent of the other while their divorce is pending.

Pending Divorces and Post Judgment Issues

As you may already know, the Connecticut courts are closed to routine family matters until further notice. Some courts will hear Priority 1 matters which include domestic violence cases, Restraining Order applications, Ex Parte Emergency Hearings for Custody, and the like. The courts that are hearing Priority 1 matters have been reduced to only a few locations statewide.  Most other normal court matters remain suspended for the duration of this declared health emergency. However, as explained further below, there is progress being made with respect to issues the court can now decide remotely, without parties or counsel being present.

Civil Restraining Orders

If tensions have boiled over into physical violence or the danger of physical violence from a family member, the courts are still hearing restraining order applications as a Priority 1. This can be accomplished by submission of the requisite application, which will result in an immediate granting or denial of the application and then a hearing to determine whether it will remain in effect for a longer period of time. That being said, if you are in immediate danger, you should call 911 and get the police involved.

Alimony, Child Support, and Other Financial Orders

The economic circumstances of the pandemic will have an effect on many who are obligated to comply with court-ordered alimony, child support, or other payments. This may also be a time when a party may try to take advantage of the current circumstances to avoid his/her responsibilities. Regardless of whether you are looking to enforce the current orders or in need of modifying them, it’s important to file the appropriate motions with the court when these issues arise.  Filing and serving your motion sooner rather than later can be materially important to your case and claims, most particularly for modification purposes.  Even if the court will not hear your motion immediately, you should take the steps you can to ensure an ability to claim this retroactivity.  Also, in defending against possible contempt motions, although a court order is required to be followed until it is formally modified by another court order, your inability to comply may provide a defense if a motion to modify is timely filed.  With regard to motions for contempt, the earlier one is filed, the sooner it will be heard by the court when its regular schedule resumes.

Child Visitation Issues

Ideally, under many circumstances, parents will be able to work out a mutually agreeable visitation plan to ensure the safety and best interests of the children involved. However, if one parent is placing the minor children in harm’s way due to his/her unsafe practices, then an emergency custody motion may be required. As mentioned above, these motions are considered Priority 1 and are still being heard by the court. An emergency custody motion may also apply to situations where a parent withholds visitation to the children based on unsupported allegations, which if left unaddressed could leave the children without access to the other parent for an extended period of time. If you are dealing with either of these situations, we can help you evaluate whether or not your issue meets the criteria of an emergency custody motion and/or how to best protect your visitation rights once the courts resume normal operation.

Agreements Ordered Remotely Without the Need to Appear in Court

The court has just implemented new procedures allowing parties with full written agreements in family court matters to request approval of their agreements without having to come to court for a hearing. The procedure is available to request the entry of a final judgment in any action for custody, visitation between parents, dissolution of marriage, or legal separation, or a final order on any motion in such a case, as long as the parties are in complete agreement and file all necessary documents. While it is always better for all involved to come together on an agreement rather that have the court decide their future, there is even more of an incentive to do so now. By taking advantage of these new court procedures, you can resolve your case now rather than waiting for an indefinite trial or hearing date that could be many months away.

We Can Help

Whether you are a potential client or an existing client we will have attorneys available before and after normal working hours.  Regardless of what you are facing, there are many things that can be done without the need for the courts to be open. Indeed, even under normal circumstances, the overwhelming majority of work takes place outside the courthouse. While much of our staff is working remotely, our firm can perform your work from our home offices – and we can meet you by appointment if the circumstances merit such a meeting.  Bear in mind, it is our intent to lead by example and respect the advice of our state and local leaders and limit all in-person meetings except in rare cases that meet the definition of Priority 1 court matters.  Regardless, please keep in touch with us regarding any changes in your life or any concerns that you may have at this time. Again, much can be accomplished even with the courts’ current status, and we are hard at work and here to help.  At the McConnell Family Law Group, we strive to help each family in “Finding Peace Through Strength.” Take the first step now and contact our New Canaan office (203) 344-7007; New Haven (203) 344-7762; or Hartford (860) 266-1166.

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