The Covid-19 situation has impacted everyone in so many ways. As family law attorneys, questions are coming at us from all angles, concerning a wide range of issues. Having conferred with the Court, Bar leaders and other practicing attorneys in the area, some clear understandings have emerged.
First, the court system will shortly be issuing an official statement as to the administration of justice during virus pandemic. Divorce, custody, support, juvenile and children in court matters will be addressed remotely via Zoom, Skype or phone. Trials are more problematic as it is important for the Judge to assess credibility, and the bench and bar leadership are working on this issue. Many pending matters such as mediations, MESP’s and other court events traditionally involving face to face contact are being rescheduled until a new protocol can be developed.
Members of the BCBA Family Law Committee have historically stepped up to the plate to assist the Court during times of trouble, including assisting the court in resolving backlogs. We have communicated our willingness to do so at this time to the Presiding Judge of the Family part, Richard Nocella, PJFP.
Part of what attorneys need to do is to properly counsel their clients due to the unprecedented nature of the current situation. We need to operate based upon logic, medical science and not base emotion. If clients speculate that a visitation might expose a child to the virus, attorneys must approach the issue carefully. If the other side has the virus, this is a reasonable position. If the other side is an ER nurse dealing with Covid-19 patients, the same is true. However, short of such fact patterns, trying to stop visits based on pure speculation is ill-advised.
On financial issues, we must also approach disputes with a clear, reasonable mindset. For instance, the ex-husband paying $7,500 a month in support, a dentist, who has had their practice interrupted due to the virus, must be treated fairly. If there is a six-month interruption in income for any obligor, we need to work together, guided by common sense, to reach fair resolutions for what will surely be a passing situation. No virus goes on forever.
Attorneys must resist the inclination to file multiple emergency petitions during these difficult times. We are not only advocates, we are counselors at law. We need to be problem solvers. Remember, we are all in this together.