Divorce and Family Law Firm Reopening After the COVID-19 Pandemic

At the time of writing (mid-June 2020), Long Island just entered the second phase of the “reopening” strategy, following the COVID-19 pandemic. The second phase began on the 10th of June 2020, soon after New York City entered phase 1 on June 8th, 2020.

Professional services and law firms, like mine, are now part of the business that are able to return to the office during phase 2. According to the executive orders of New York State, we can start meeting with people again at the office, if phone or video consultations are not selected by the client or potential clients. Throughout the pandemic, my services have still been available with clients and potential clients. However, many of my conversations have taken place over Zoom or phone calls. As we enter phase 2, though we are able to speak to clients in the office, safety protocols will be in place.

We will be adhering to social distancing requirements and wearing masks for safety. Additionally, we will adhere to safety and sanitization practices as required. For those of you who would prefer to maintain remote conversations at this time, we still offer phone, email, mail, Zoom, and other services. We have been doing litigation and negotiation consultations about divorce and family law issues or divorce mediations by phone and Zoom with couples during the pandemic as well as for pre-nuptial, post-nuptial, divorces, and separation agreements. We plan on continuing these services going forward.

Understanding the Reopening Process

So, where are the New York State Courts at during this part of the re-opening?

Court staff in all locations in New York are reporting to the court houses again. Courts will begin to hear and allow for new “non-essential” matters to be filed again.  This means child support and child custody lawyers will be getting busier. The re-opening process for the courts will be gradual, and cautious, however. Some non-essential matters that will be available again and have not been able to during the pandemic thus far, include child support, child custody and parenting time cases. Courts will also allow for new filings for divorces, guardianship, name changes, adoptions, and other family law issues.

Cases that were put on hold during the initial shutdown of New York in March 2020 may start to be dealt with by the courts again. Parties to cases and lawyers will still not be permitted into courthouses except in essential cases, however. Essential cases for family law matters, such as orders of protection, will be heard with safety protocols in place. Other matters such as child custody and child support are supposed to be heard virtually. Ever since the pandemic shutdown started most non-essential cases were being administratively adjourned.

While judges were permitted to begin scheduling virtual conferences for non-essential matters for more than a month now, I have only had a couple of handfuls of these conferences for my Suffolk County and Nassau County clients. My child custody and child support cases in the Nassau County and Suffolk County family courts have still been administratively adjourned up to this point. Though some non-essential cases may have been conferenced again, I have yet to see this myself except for some of my divorce cases that were already in the court’s pipeline. I imagine that more cases will receive court attention going forward, now that we are in phase 2 on Long Island and phase 1 in New York City. We hope that transitions to Phase 3 and Phase 4 will be smooth, and more and more cases can resume.

Addressing Non-Essential Matters in Court

The courts started to allow the filing of matters deemed “non-essential” in the past few weeks. However, filings will not be the same as they once were. Lawyers, for represented parties, need to efile papers for Supreme Court matters like divorces, post-judgments divorces and name changes (Long Island name changes are done in the Supreme Courts). Family court issues will be filed by mail. Although the courts have struggled to help people with their issues recently, my office has still been busy addressing things this entire time. Divorce, matrimonial and family law issues have not stopped during the coronavirus pandemic. There are some new and different issues rather as a result of what has been going on.

For many, being home-together with their spouses or partners have made them realize that they really want to be further apart. This would suggest that there could be an increase for people seeking Separation Agreements and divorces or for unmarried couples to go their separate ways. We have been negotiating agreements throughout the pandemic and this is a common approach we use anyway since if we can enter into agreements prior to the filing of new cases we can then submit this as an uncontested divorce or a settled case.

The day of reckoning will be coming though for the child support issues that have been on hold during the pandemic. While emergency matters have been heard during the pandemic, many child support issues were deemed non-essential until this point. These issues will be heard virtually as we move into phase 2. The child custody and parenting time issues have been many as well, but except for emergency matters, like for child support, these too have been on hold. Phase two should start to transition these cases being heard as well.

Order of protection for Family Offense issues were deemed “essential” this whole time, so I have had virtual court appearances during the COVID-19 pandemic. I even experienced a virtual trial via Skype. It will be interesting to see how the following phases play out.

To schedule your own free initial consultation, please contact my office via my online form, or call my office at (516) 333-6555. We offer free initial consultations of up to a half hour. Couples interested in using me as their mediator will need to have their free initial consultation together.

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