Confronting Family Law Issues During the Coronavirus Pandemic
With quarantine and Shelter-in-Place orders from state and local governments in the face of COVID19, there are many family law issues to resolve. For those with minor children and a parenting plan in place, parents have to navigate their obligations under the court-ordered plan and their desire to keep the children in one place to reduce risk. The pandemic does not suspend existing court orders regarding parenting. Unless parents can reach a compromise about parenting time, each parent continues to have the obligation to follow the parenting plan in place. Parents can work together to find means of exchanging the children that reduce risk and can also agree on protocols to follow in each house for limiting exposure and keeping children at home. Absent agreement and compromise, the principal experience in New Hampshire is that parenting plans will be enforced, and the pandemic will not be a basis for emergency orders to change the parenting plan.
Similarly, financial obligations stemming from divorce orders are not suspended during the shelter-in-place or quarantine times. If an obligor for child support or alimony fails to make payment as required by court order, the intended recipient will have to seek enforcement of the order from the Court. This will take time because the Courts in New Hampshire and Vermont are limited to a specific list of issues to be heard until the Courts reopen generally. Enforcement of existing alimony and child support orders are not on the list. Conversely, a private agreement that payments are forgiven or reduced is not specifically enforceable unless and until it has been approved by a court in New Hampshire. Persons with orders to pay child support and/or alimony who have suffered a loss of income or a substantial reduction in earnings need to file a request for relief and reduction as soon as possible. New Hampshire courts may not make orders changing child support or alimony retroactive to a date before notice is given to the recipient that a change is being requested.
Our current situation will raise many issues related to family law. If you are not sure how to respond to your situation, consult with counsel sooner rather than later.