Navigating the Action Steps Available in Connecticut Family Law Cases during the Covid-19 Shutdown
The framework below outlines what actions can or should be taken (and why) during the Covid-19 shutdown. The list is broken down by family matter type:
These can still be filed now, and it may be advantageous to get the process started sooner rather than waiting to file amidst the flood of cases which are likely to come all at once when the Court resume regular functioning.
While in many ways already pending matters are on hold, that does not mean the case should gather dust and creak to a complete halt just because the Courts are mostly closed. Consider what tasks and preparation can be accomplished during this period, and what new issues may arise from the current circumstances.
Being forced into close, unremitting proximity for an extended period of time during the current “stay at home” orders may result in tension boiling over, sometimes dangerously. If you are at risk, the Courts remain open to entering restraining orders. This can generally be accomplished by submission of the proper form, which will result in an immediate granting or denial of the application and then a hearing to determine on a longer-term basis whether there will be a restraining order.
If you believe you are in immediate danger, you should call 911.
It is almost certain that even the best crafted parenting plan did not anticipate the current pandemic circumstances. Optimally, both parents can work out a mutually agreeable plan across both households (and sometimes more) to ensure the safety of the minor children involved (not to mention other family members). If one parent is placing the minor children at the risk of harm by their unsafe practices, then an emergency custody motion may be required – and those are still being heard and decided by the Courts. However, the situation also lends itself to one parent withholding the children based on unfounded allegations, which if left unaddressed could leave the children without access to the other parent for an extended period of time. That situation, too, may pose a risk to the children so that an emergency custody motion is warranted. Where essential workers, such as health care providers, are still going to work, that may also give rise to contentions on both sides of this issue. You should speak with experienced family counsel immediately to help you evaluate if your situation meets the criteria to be filed as a Priority 1 Matter (e.g. emergency custody motion) and an immediate remedy pursued and/or how to best protect your parental rights once the Courts move closer to or resume normal operation.
Despite the current circumstances and limited access to the Courts, it is still important to be making initial financial claims, seeking enforcement of obligations being unfairly avoided, as well promptly seeking modifications based on a substantial or material change in circumstances. There are going to be many breadwinners who will find themselves in desperate need of reduced alimony or child support obligations, while there are many dependents who may find themselves unfairly deprived of alimony or support by someone trying to take advantage of the current situation. For pending divorce cases, what is or is not a violation of the automatic orders – or where relief should be granted from the automatic orders – will be an important question in many cases, for example in order to avoid a significant financial loss from market volatility. You should speak with experienced family counsel immediately in order to put yourself in the best strategic position, now and once the Courts resume regular functioning.
If your divorce case involves a closely held business, it will be a significant question if and to what extent that business will be affected by the economic effects from the COVID-19 pandemic. As the business owner, you may need to prove that the business’s value and income have been significantly reduced. As the spouse of the business owner, you may need to prove that the business is not going to be negatively affected over the long term, or that it in fact will benefit from the current circumstances in some way. Whatever side of this issue you find yourself, you will need experienced family counsel to ensure that your position is well represented and that you obtain a fair result.
The pandemic and related economic circumstances may have complicated, stalled, or rendered impossible compliance with various orders so that relief will be needed in Court the form of a modification.
This may also be a time when one party may try to take advantage of the current unprecedented circumstances to avoid their responsibilities or take other improper and unjustified actions. A Court order is required to be followed until it is formally modified by another Court order. However, inability to comply may provide a defense. Whichever side of this situation you may find yourself, it is important to put a legal strategy in place with experienced counsel as soon as practicable.