We are currently in the midst of week 3 of the COVID-19 “pause” in New York State, and the question on everyone’s mind is “when will things get back to normal?” Unfortunately it seems that the pause will not be lifted any time soon, as the number of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths throughout the state (and particularly throughout the city) continue to rise.
It is easy to feel helpless in times like this, when it seems we do not have much control over our lives. This feeling becomes even more pronounced if you are trapped at home in an unhappy or abusive relationship, if you have lost your job and cannot meet your support obligations or you have concerns about releasing your child for parenting time in the midst of this pandemic.
Although courts are currently closed, there are still actions that can be taken to help you. The following is not an exhaustive list. Please contact us with any questions or if you are in need of legal services.
Divorce Actions: While the Court is not currently accepting applications for new index numbers, we can still help you get started on your divorce matter.
The date a divorce action is commenced is extremely important, as it “stops the clock” on the accumulation of marital assets, and is often used as the retroactivity date for any support orders. As the Court is not able to process new actions at the present time, it is unclear how retroactivity/commencement date issues will be handled once the Court resumes normal functions. It is possible that the Court will look at what evidence there was of intent to start an action during the time the Court was closed, and deem that the commencement date. This “evidence” could include the date an attorney was retained and/or the date your spouse was notified of your intent to seek a divorce.
If you choose to retain us for a new divorce action, we can begin work on certain aspects of your divorce despite not being able to purchase an index number. These aspects include negotiations with your spouse or their attorney, demanding and exchanging discovery, and exchanging settlement proposals. If we are able to come to an agreement and resolve the aspects surrounding your divorce, we can draft and have you sign a separation agreement, which acts as a binding contract. NY executive order No. 202.7 allows a document to be notarized using audio-visual technology, and will have the same force and effect as if it were notarized in person.
Mediation: If you are seeking to initiate, or continue mediation, all appointments and meetings can be conduct through zoom, google hangouts, skype, or a variety of other digital meeting platforms. In the event all terms are agreed upon, a separation agreement could be drafted, signed and notarized, as explained above, which would be a binding contract. The divorce packet could be prepared and would simply need to be filed once the Court resumes normal function.
Modifications to Child Support: While the Courts are not hearing non-emergency cases, certain counties are allowing attorneys to file petitions to modify child support by email in order to preserve retroactivity dates. Other counties are allowing us to send in petitions by mail, using the postmark as a guide.
In addition to filing petitions/preserving retroactivity dates, we can help you negotiate with your co-parent and speak with the Support Collection Unit to go over your options if your income has been altered due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Domestic Violence: There has been a surge of domestic abuse since people have essentially become trapped in their homes with their abusers. If you are in immediate danger, call the police and/or seek refuge at a shelter. The Courts are hearing emergency cases, including Family Court applications for temporary orders of protection, which could order the offender out of the home. New York City is currently running virtual court hearings on emergency applications to reduce foot traffic inside the courthouse. If you do not have access to the internet, you can call in to the hearing on the telephone.
Parenting Time during this “Pause”: Although the governor has directed us to limit our exposure to people and remain home as much as possible, little guidance has been offered on how to handle children being shuffled between homes, and custody and visitation orders remain in full force and effect. Justice Jeffrey Sunshine of the Kings County Supreme Court wrote an article in the New York Law Journal warning parents that using this pandemic as a means to obstruct parenting time, or come between a relationship between a child and there parent, could have dire consequences and could even result in a change in custody.
But what if there is a legitimate concern for the child (or parent’s) health? My last article covers this very concern, and while we have no definitive answers as to how the Court would address such an issue, it is imperative that the child’s well-being be at the forefront of both parents actions. During this time, we can help you negotiate with your child’s parent or their attorney to achieve an outcome that will ensure your child’s health and well-being, while maintain the child’s relationship with both parents.
Don’t succumb to that feeling of helplessness. We are ready, willing and able to help you with your legal needs. Please contact us today with any and all questions.