By Family Court Judge Jim Douglas, Kanawha County
In divorce, there is no such thing as “shelter in place”. The COVID-19 pandemic has become reality. The media has called precautionary measures the “new normal.”
The divorce in which you now find yourself is the “old normal,” and it is just as real. And it is nearer to your home than what seems to be happening in faraway places. Assuming you may have a temporary order in effect from your family court, how will the CDC Guidelines and the March 12 and March 16, 2020, Administrative Orders of the West Virginia Supreme Court, virtually limiting lower court access to all but specific emergency cases, affect your on-going divorce, your children, your parenting time, your child support, and your alimony? How can you just get through this whole, ugly, distasteful and painful divorce mess in “one piece” with your sanity intact? Here are a few thoughts and reminders:
Domestic Violence relief is characterized as an “emergency” subject and time-sensitive matter, for which the courts are yet required to be open to receive and act upon your complaint.
High value and large ticket property issues will have to wait. Payments on credit cards should be limited to stated minimums in order to insure continuation of consumer debt resources to meet immediate emergencies or long term economic uncertainties. Usage, however, of credit cards should be reasonable and restrained.
Child Support, despite work interruptions, still should be prioritized within limited funds, but timely paid without reductions or offsets, because children still need food and shelter. Direct deposits of child support to the receiving parent’s individual banking account serves social distancing suggestions between Parties.
If job lay-offs or major employment changes suddenly and drastically reduce an ability to pay, then the time constrained expedited modification process found in Code 48-11-106 and Rule 51, Family Court Rules, can be used to reassess child support amounts. Alimony obligations are not covered by the expedited modification remedy.
Divorcing parties should be diligent in not only maintaining healthcare insurance on children, but also, no parent party, whose job provides such insurance, should reduce the coverages, deductibles, or co-pays pertaining to and providing protection for their children.
Parenting Time with children presents the greatest challenge in the current healthcare crisis. Parenting time is essential to maintain family relationships in the midst of marital upheaval, and its loss is irreplaceable. But your child(ren)’s safety is paramount. Admittedly, media contact (FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, etc.), albeit inadequate and obviously unequal to a close, in-person and “hugging” relationship, promotes and protects a child’s general welfare for the time being.
Irrespective of residential/non-residential classifications and temporary parenting plans imposed by family courts, parent parties are encouraged to work together and cooperate in alternating care responsibilities between them, when faced with school and daycare closures but unchanged work expectations and schedules.
After all, what is more important than our families?