We are many days into the COVID-19 crisis and the Stay at Home Orders barring all non-essential travel. The kitchen table is now repurposed as the work-home-office, the new-distance-learning- school and maybe even used to eat once in a while. Kids are home. Parents are home. Sports are canceled. Walking out to get the mail or take out the trash has taken on a whole new meaning. Everyone is on edge and going a bit stir crazy. It’s a lot. For all of us, this is a lot. It’s overwhelming, it’s scary, it’s nerve-wracking, it’s beyond stressful. But, let’s remember to take a breath and step back for a second. Are you being reasonable?
My colleague, Ronald G. Lieberman, Esquire, recently wrote a blog about what happens when you cannot comply with an existing, pre-COVID 19 Court Order. Whether for child support, alimony, parenting time, etc., Court Orders are still Court Orders and they can still only be changed by the entry of a new Court Order, whether by consent or by judicial determination.
However, accessing the Courts right now is a bit tricky and the judiciary is adjusting and responding to the COVID-19 crisis right along with the rest of us. So, what can do we? We can all be reasonable, practical and take into account we are all in this together, we have never experienced anything like this in our lifetimes before and it can just as easily be us on the other side in need of help tomorrow. We have all heard the saying—probably a lot recently—that “what happens to you is not nearly as important as how you react.” Let’s make a point of reacting with reasonability, practicality and compassion.
How? Well, for example, let’s say that child support is due to you from the other parent, but that parent just got laid off due to COVID-19 crisis, like many people are currently experiencing. What now? Well, hopefully, it will be a short -term issue and one this crisis is past, it will go back to “normal”. What happens in the meantime? If you are the payor, reach out to the parent receiving the support. Explain the situation. Offer to pay something even if it cannot be the full amount normally required. If you are the parent receiving support, work with the paying parent in a reasonable manner
Don’t react with outrage that a Court Order is being violated, don’t threaten an immediate enforcement motion, and don’t threaten sanctions. Perhaps agree to temporarily reduce or suspend the normal child support payment and tack the arrears onto the end for down the road when we all have a much better idea what the future will look like once the Stay at Home Orders are lifted. The reality is it will take time and likely money to file an enforcement action and the Court had broad discretion to act equitably (be fair). Will the Court really strictly enforce a child support order that existed pre-COVID-19 against a payor that has been laid off during the pandemic? Maybe, maybe not.
The same goes for parenting time. We have seen plenty of parenting time disputes about whether pre-COVID-19 parenting time needs to keep happening. On one hand, one parent is advocating the child stay home and reducing exposure and offering Facetime, Skype, telephone, text, Snapchat, etc. to keep in contact with the other (non-custodial) parent. On the other hand, that (non-custodial) parent wants their parenting time per the existing Order. They are the parent! They aren’t a risk. They are entitled to see their children just like they normally would. Isn’t that reasonable? To be clear, NONE of what we are experiencing now is “normal”. Again, Orders are Orders and they are valid, but whether they will be strictly enforced under the present circumstances remains to be seen. Remember, the Court’s over-arching responsibility is to ensure the health, safety and welfare of children. Now, take a step back and look at it practically and reasonably: can the child safely go to/from parenting time without any exposure? Does the child have any medical or immune issues that making doing anything other than staying at home a threat to their health and safety? With every news cycle getting more and more grim and the statistics growing, even doubling, by day, is it really worth the risk to your child?
We all want the same thing: for our family and loved ones to be safe, to come out the other side of this as unscathed as possible, let’s do our part by stepping back, taking a breath and do our best to be reasonable. In the long run any disruption we experience today in trying to cope with COVID-19 won’t change your family structure but it could well change how your family deals with one another in the future.
Julie Burick, Esq. is a shareholder and partner at Adinolfi, Lieberman, Burick, Falkenstein, Roberto & Molotsky, PA. She represents clients throughout New Jersey in dealing with their unique family law matters.