Family Law Concerns in the Face and Wake of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
Simply put, life as we know it has been turned upside down as a result of the global pandemic of COVID-19, commonly referred to as Coronavirus. The Burton Firm hopes you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy in the face of this virus. We also extend our deepest gratitude to the healthcare professionals, police force, fire fighters, first responders, grocers, volunteers, and workers across the nation ensuring each American has access to life’s necessities.
However, we understand that anxieties are high right now as we all face life’s uncertainties in the wake of COVID-19. For that reason, we are providing an overview of three of the most common family law concerns that we have been contacted about over the last several days:
WHAT HAPPENS TO MY CASE SINCE THE COURTS ARE CLOSED?
All courts in Florida support the mission of the judicial branch: to protect rights and liberties, uphold and interpret the law, and provide for the peaceful resolution of disputes. It is true that the Florida state family courts are temporarily closed for non-essential matters by order of the Florida Supreme Court. This temporary closure is to comply with distancing requirements established by public health authorities to prevent further spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. However, active family law cases will remain active. While there is some uncertainty over when the Florida state family courts will re-open for business as usual, attorneys and pro se litigants are still able to file pleadings, motions, discovery responses, discovery requests, and other filings via the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal.
IS COVID-19 GROUNDS FOR A CHILD SUPPORT MODIFICATION?
A substantial change in circumstances is one of the situations where a Florida court can modify child support under Fla. Stat. § 61.13(1)(a). Courts interpreting “substantial change in circumstances” have found that the change in circumstances must be significant, material, involuntary and permanent in nature before a court will reduce child support payments. Therefore, if you are one of the many people that is experiencing economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. a job loss, a net worth diminution, or a disability due to COVID-19), it is possible that you may have factual grounds for a child support modification. However, a modification is not self-effectuating and will not be immediate, as the other party to the litigation has significant due process rights and is entitled to defend against the modification. This means such party is entitled to object to a modification request, take discovery (including depositions) on the petition for child support modification, and have an evidentiary hearing on the matter.
Additionally, the Court will set the matter for an evidentiary final hearing (which could last longer than a day depending on the extent of the evidence, the number of witnesses, and the number of hours the Court has available for a given day of trial). Child support modifications are fact specific. For that reason, if you intend to seek a child support modification as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to keep good records concerning the grounds for your modification, identify necessary witnesses, and identify evidence necessary to prove your substantial change in circumstances.
ARE TIMESHARING SCHEDULES SUSPENDED DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS?
Even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, most parents should follow all orders of Court including those that relate to timesharing. However, this time presents new and difficult situations that parents may need to navigate. For example, if one parent becomes infected with COVID-19 or otherwise needs to self-isolate, the parties may – for the best interest of the minor child/children – work to amicably modify the timesharing schedule on a temporary basis. As another example, if one parent lives locally and another lives a plane ride away, the parents may need to work to cooperate to reach temporary timesharing agreements in consideration of the best interests of the minor child/children. If an amicable resolution cannot be reached, parents may need to reach out to their lawyers as Court intervention may be necessary.
THE BURTON FIRM CAN HELP
Our legal team can provide you with a full understanding of your rights and responsibilities so you do not have to face this stressful process alone. If you or a family member has any family law questions – especially questions that relate to the global pandemic of COVID-19 – please call The Burton Firm for a consultation.