How does the COVID-19 shutdown affect my family court case?
All terms of court in the family court have been canceled until at least May 1, 2020, and it is possible that the shutdown could be extended. When the courts reopen, will there be a flood of rules to show cause asking the court to hold parents in contempt for violating court-ordered visitation or child support payments?
Can you deny visitation to a non-custodial parent because you are concerned about exposure to the coronavirus? Does the SC governor’s “Home or Work Order” prevent parents from transporting a child for visitation with the non-custodial parent?
What about child support payments? If you have been laid off from your job due to the COVID-19 shutdown, are you still required to make child support payments?
I’ll briefly answer these questions below, but if you have questions about your case or if you need help with a family court matter during the shutdown, call our office at 843-353-3449 or send an email.
Can I Delay Visitation Rights During the Shutdown?
The governor’s Home or Work Order does not prevent parents from transporting children for court-ordered visitation.
On the contrary, the Order has a specific exception in the Section 1.E.7. definitions of “Essential Activities” that covers the transportation of children to comply with court-ordered visitation or custody agreements. Essential activities include:
Traveling as required by law, to include attending any court proceedings and transporting children as required by court order or custody agreement.
This means that you must comply with all court-ordered visitation requirements during the shutdown, and “the governor ordered us to stay home” will probably not be a legitimate defense if the non-custodial parent files a rule to show cause over denial of their visitation rights.
What if the Non-Custodial Parent Tests Positive for COVID-19?
If the non-custodial parent becomes sick with the coronavirus, that may be a circumstance that justifies denying court-ordered visitation temporarily.
The parent who becomes ill will most likely understand and consent to video-visits instead of in-person visits while they recover. If they do not, touch base with your attorney and document 1) the fact that the parent was confirmed to be sick with COVID-19 and 2) your efforts to provide alternate means of visitation such as telephone or video conferencing.
What if the Non-Custodial Parent is an Essential Worker at High Risk of Exposure?
This could be more of a gray area, but I predict the family court will not agree that a nurse, doctor, police officer, or grocery store clerk, who are putting themselves in harm’s way to serve their community, should be denied visitation with their children based on their occupation.
Unless the non-custodial parent agrees that visitation should be postponed and assuming the non-custodial parent is taking all reasonable precautions to ensure the child’s safety, you should continue to comply with the court-ordered visitation schedule.
If you aren’t sure or if there are other circumstances that would put the child in danger, contact your attorney immediately to find out how you should proceed.
Do I Have to Make Child Support Payments if I’ve Lost My Job Due to the Coronavirus Outbreak?
If you have lost your job due to the shutdown and you can do so, you should continue making your child support payments until your attorney can request a modification based on the change in circumstances.
If it is impossible to make the full payments, pay everything that you can and document what you have paid and why you do not have the full amount. When the courts reopen, your attorney can help you to request a modification of your child support based on the changes in your financial situation – in the meantime, you must make the full payments if possible or you will risk being held in contempt of court for violating the court’s order…
Are the Family Courts Closed Due to the COVID-19 Shutdown?
The SC Supreme Court has closed all family courts for all purposes except emergency hearings through May 1st.
This means that the courts are not likely to hear most custody, visitation, or child support matters until at least May 1, assuming they do not extend the shutdown further. Emergency matters may include issues that involve an immediate threat to a child’s safety like abuse, neglect, or abandonment, but it will not include “routine” matters that can safely be resolved in a month or two.
The judges, court reporters, law clerks, bailiffs, attorneys, and other court staff must “socially distance” to avoid spreading the coronavirus, just as the general public has been asked to socially distance.
Just like the general public, many court personnel are older or have underlying medical conditions that make them particularly “at-risk” from COVID-19. If you aren’t sure if your legal issue is an emergency, ask yourself, “would the judge and court personnel think this is worth risking their life to resolve immediately?”
If the answer is no, it can probably wait until the court reopens…
Although the family courts in SC are closed until May 1st for all but emergency hearings, the attorneys and staff on the Axelrod team are available right now to help.
If you are considering separation or divorce in SC, need help enforcing or modifying a child support or visitation order, or have an emergency that needs immediate attention, call Axelrod and Associates now at 843-353-3449 or send us a message through our website to find out how we can help.