Can I Deal with Divorce and Family Law During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Phone-call-300x216Currently, as I’m writing this blog, the Darren Shapiro Law and Mediation Office is still doing business, albeit since the governor ordered 100% of the workforce must work from home, I am working from home by phone, email, skype, zoom, and whatever works. Even before the order, we were taking as many steps as we can to protect our clients, and the people who come to us for help. This means not only ensuring that we follow all precautions for health and safety, but also supporting everyone adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Since it seems, for now, people need to avoid meeting your divorce attorney or mediator in person, but you still have options. For new clients, we have always, and will continue to provide initial consultations, with up to the first half hour free, that are available either over the phone, skype, zoom, or other digital means. If you want to discuss your case, you can connect with me over the phone, via email, or schedule an appointment for a video conference, we will make different arrangements work.

Dealing with Mediation and Litigation

Currently, divorce mediation can still be done via phone or video. We can initiate Skype videoconferencing, Zoom, audioconferencing, or possibly other sessions for people since we will not be able to attend a mediation session in person. This option has been used in the past by our office for those who were unable to attend meetings due to distance, work or travel commitments. Payments can also be collected via email, text, or over the phone. We can use encryption in emails to protect your personal data.

As the pandemic continues, we will be listening and adhering to all of the suggestions imposed to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers and the people of the United States. Crucially, we are observing the rules mandated within New York for family law lawyers.

In regard to litigation, the New York Courts at this time have indicated that they will be remaining opening for essential services only. Because of this, there may be some limitations in the cases that will be heard in front of a judge or court. Although you may need to be patient about sorting through all of your issues and accessing the right orders for your family, getting help with certain needs such as child support, juvenile delinquency, orders of protection, certain guardianship matters, and child protective proceedings, among other cases, are essential practices.

Judges are currently granting adjournments and setting future dates for most court appearances, re-arranging cases to be heard in a few weeks, or couple of months’ time. Some judges may also allow for conferences to be held over the phone or via video when only lawyers are required to be on the call. You can assess the protocols posted by the New York courts for yourself here.

Options for E-Filing with Family Law Cases

As this matter continues, cases can be initiated in many legal venues via e-filing. This means that the cases started with e-filing can be submitted by lawyers through digital means. This reduces the need for in-person appearances.

The unfortunate truth is that even in these difficult times, people will still have issues to address when it comes to things like divorce, child custody, orders of protection, parenting time, child support, alimony, maintenance, equitable distribution and more. As complicated as the health situation may be at this time, our lives continue, regardless. While some of these issues may need to be put on hold temporarily by the courts, some will be addressed with more urgency. Child protection, family offenses, juvenile delinquency and support orders are still currently considered essential services at this time. This means that the family court will still deal with many of these cases.

In the New York Supreme Courts for civil matters, essential applications may be dealt with according to the discretion of the court. Divorces are civil matters, that can involve some of the essential issues like support and orders of protection, in the Supreme Court, however, what constitutions an essential application isn’t entirely clear. Arguably, there are many essential matters that must be dealt with in a divorce, such as orders of protection, and orders for support. While the courts are not closed at this time, the availability of judges for all legal needs is in question. Accommodations may need to be made at this time, and clients may be asked to adhere to out-of-the-ordinary methods to manage their cases, like video conferencing or teleconferencing. Sometimes our strategy is to take this time to get the papers and everything drafted and ready for court action as soon as the courts can handle it. We can get things ready to file and even try to get them before the court. Perhaps the court will deal with it now or maybe we can get some type of priority to be heard.

Although this is a difficult time for all of us, for some people who are working less, or not working at all, this could also be an opportunity. If you are partaking in social distancing strategies, then you may have extra time and an opportunity to sort through matrimonial, legal separation or other family law issues that you haven’t been able to address before. In this case, reaching out to a divorce and family law attorney could be essential. You may also find it important to speak to your divorce lawyer if you believe that your needs are greater because of the changes in your circumstances. A need for support orders, or established agreements around custody and parenting time could be critical. Correspondences and negotiations can still take place between parties and lawyers at this time. We can make agreements and mail paperwork to get Separation Agreements, Stipulations of Settlement and other things done now.

If you’re unsure what to do next about your family law or divorce case, please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience. If you contact me either via phone, at (516) 333-6555, or using my online contact form, I will do my best to respond to you as quickly as possible.

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