Divorce in the time of coronavirus: COVID-19 FAQs

By Lynelle Morgan
Family Law Attorney

Should I be sending my children back and forth for visitation when we are supposed to be “staying home?” “Is spring break still a thing?” “I am working less and can’t afford my child support, what do I do?”

The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone’s normal in a short amount of time. For people involved in active family court litigation, or who are operating under an existing family court order, these changes raise many questions. Here, we try to answer some of the most common.

QUESTION:  I am the custodial parent, so my children live with me and spend alternating weekends with their other parent. We are following the recommendations of the government by staying home as much as possible and avoiding non-family members, but their other parent does not. Can I refuse to send my kids to visitation?

ANSWER:  Despite the unusual situation, you should continue to follow court orders as much as possible for as long as possible. This includes sending your children for visitation. Remember, the parenting time schedule presumes it is in the best interest of your children to spend time with both parents, which may be more important now than ever.

However, the health and safety of your children and community is also important, particularly in these unprecedented times. Reach out to the other parent and share your concerns. If you or a household member are at particular risk for becoming seriously ill from Covid-19, ask your doctor for his or her recommendation and share that with the other parent. Try to agree on what steps each of you     will take to protect the children from exposure. If you and the other parent agree to temporarily alter the schedule, be sure to document the agreement, even if it is just by text message or email. And be prepared to be generous and flexible with makeup time for the other parent when this is all over.

If you can’t reach an agreement consult with your attorney about possible steps that can be taken to seek a court ordered change on an emergency basis. Just know that court intervention is extremely limited right now and may not be available in your situation.

QUESTION:  I heard family court is closed, so if I don’t follow the court order the other parent can’t do anything about it. Is that true?

ANSWER:  On March 16, 2020 the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered that family courts statewide would hear only certain emergency matters until further order. Violations of court orders, or contempt, are not included in the list of matters considered emergencies. You should not interpret this as a “free pass” for withholding children from the other parent, not making child support payments or other violations of court orders. Tomorrow the sun will rise, the courts will reopen, and we predict judges will be particularly unforgiving of litigants who take advantage of this crisis to disobey their orders.

QUESTION:  In my custody agreement this is my year to have the kids for spring break. With schools closed, we don’t know if spring break is cancelled or just moved back. What do I do?

ANSWER: As of the date of this writing, all South Carolina schools are closed through April 30, 2020, and there is no statewide directive for how school districts should handle spring break. Absent a directive from the state or your child’s school district, we recommend you follow the regular school calendar for your district. Again, this is a chance to work together with the other parent to do what is best for your children. You probably won’t be taking that spring break vacation you planned. But maybe you can take on supervision of your children’s e-learning during that week and give the other parent a much-needed break.

QUESTION: My spouse had to leave her job to stay home with our children after schools were closed, causing a 35% decrease in our household income. I can’t afford to pay my child support. What should I do?

ANSWER: The pandemic is going to create financial problems for many people, including those who pay and receive child support. Keep the other parent informed of your situation and pay as much as you can, even if it isn’t the full amount. Communication with the other parent is key – he or she may be more understanding than you think.

QUESTION: I don’t want my case to be put on hold indefinitely while the courts are closed. Are there any options to move forward and get my case resolved?

ANSWER: Yes! Battling it out in court may be the most common way for folks to handle their family law disputes, but it’s not the best way. If you have an existing case, talk to your attorney about alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation and arbitration. If you have a family court dispute, but no existing case, learn more about the collaborative process and discuss it with the other party. The family law team at Morton & Gettys is equipped to handle all these methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution remotely and efficiently, using tools such as videoconferencing and teleconferencing.

Lynelle Morgan is a family law attorney with Morton & Gettys Law Firm in Rock Hill, SC. She can be reached at (803) 366-3426 or lynelle.morgan@mortongettys.com.

Information or interaction on this page should not be construed as establishing a client-attorney relationship or as legal advice. For advice about your specific situation, please consult one of our attorneys.

Elizabeth Smith Owen

Partner

P 803.366.3388  F 803.366.4044

Michael B. Smith

Partner

P 803.366.3426  F 803.366.4044