The Covid-19 pandemic is one that has brought about a high degree of fear and stress for families in our area and around the country. More than the disruption to our normal way of life, the problems associated with a possible loss or disruption in our work lives, the uncertainty with the health of our families and the concern over future outbreaks have been permeating through the world over the past few months. Families in southeast Texas who have court orders that impact their lives can be impacted by many more issues, as well.
Many of those families are made up of parents who cannot get along with one another. That was true at the time of their separation and/or divorce and is still true to this day. In the event that you and your child’s other parent are what we call “high conflict” in your interactions with one another it is especially important that you consider your child’s needs first and foremost, and do what you can to put your own desires and misgivings about your former spouse or partner on the backburner.
Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will touch on families like yours that are dealing with twin crises: the coronavirus and a high conflict family law situation. Don’t lose your cool and don’t lose hope that you and overcome your circumstances in order to arrive at a conclusion that works well for your family.
Child support problems between high conflict parents
If you owe child support to an ex-spouse that you are constantly at odds with then yours is an especially combustible situation. Other than issues relating to your children, issues relating to money are probably at the top of the list as far as problems that bring about conflict in your relationship with him or her. Unfortunately money issues are not far behind health issues when it comes to problems brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Finding yourself in a position where you are unable to pay child support due to a loss or reduction in income can be a scary place for you to be in. For many of us, part of our self-worth and self-image stems from our work and the income that we earn from our work. A sudden stop of that work or income can be a blow to our self-esteem and to our ability to provide for our families.
Child support obligations do not stop just because of the coronavirus. Certainly, the loss of income due to a pandemic would give you good reason to request a modification of your child support order, but until a judge rules on that request you are bound to pay the child support that is ordered in your most recent court order. With every month that you fall behind, more and more money is owed. Your ex-spouse is likely getting more and more frustrated by your failure to pay, as well.
What I can tell you is that your local court is likely to be closed to the public, but the child support office for your county or region is still going to be open. That means you can contact the Office of the Attorney General and request that your application be reviewed for a possible reduction in obligation to pay. Keep in mind that you are not the only person in our area to be interested in child support relief so it may take some time for your request to be reviewed and decided upon.
Here is how things work as far as modifications are concerned, to the best of my knowledge. Modifications of child support can be requested by applying for one through your local child support office. The attorney general’s representative can negotiate revised child support obligations and payment plans with you and your child’s other parent. If an agreement can be made, the attorney general would draft amended child support orders for all parties to sign.
On the other hand, if you are able gain unemployment benefits then it is probable that your child support be deducted from the benefits that you are able to get. Up to 50% of all unemployment benefits that you earn can be withheld for paying your child support. The last thing that I will mention to you on this subject is that you will likely need to contact your child’s other parent to let him or her know that you have lost your job or have seen a decrease in your pay. This may be the last thing that you want to do but it is likely required under your current court orders.
Are courthouses open to hearings in the month of May?
You may have received word from your attorney, from your ex-spouse’s attorney or from the court directly that you have a hearing date upcoming. Since our blog is read by people across southeast Texas I will not attempt to update you on the closed/open status of every courthouse in our area. What I will tell you is that most courts that I am aware of are only holding hearings on emergency matters or things that absolutely need to be sorted out right now. If you are attempting to set up a hearing on a matter that is “non essential” (to borrow another popular pandemic term) then you will likely be unable to have that matter addressed by a judge any time soon.
What can you do if you are in a position where you need to have your high conflict family situation addressed by a judge sooner rather than later? I would begin by talking to a family law attorney who has specific knowledge of the court you are assigned to. After that, you can make regular phone calls to the court to if there are any developments on when the courthouse will begin to open up for regular business.
You may find that your court has rescheduled hearings set for April and May to later this summer or even early fall. Other courts have not been able to give you any specific information on when your hearing date will be rescheduled. Like many other areas of our lives, we will need to wait for the pandemic to end for the court to be able to tell us with any certainty what will happen next in the life of your high conflict family law matter.
Is mediation still a possibility?
I am aware that many of you reading this blog post are in situations where your family law case was coming to a close in mid-March right as the pandemic began to impact our area. All you had to do was mediate your case to get an agreement that could wrap up the matter and send you and the other parent on your ways. However, with businesses closing down and many mediators doing the same you were left in a position where you were willing to mediate but unable to find a mediator who would help you.
Harris and many surrounding counties run dispute resolution centers that will provide you all with mediation services at a reduced cost. Many of these mediators will have been closed along with other government operations. However, it is my hope that many will be opening to the public in the coming weeks. That would offer people like you another option to choose from as far as resolution of your family law case is concerned.
Still other private mediators will likely be able to offer you all mediations via video and other electronic means. Remember, these mediators need to be able to pay the rent on their office and a mortgage on their home during this pandemic, just like you. As a result, they will be much more motivated to work with you on mediating your case than will a government mediation service. If all else fails you can call your county dispute resolution center to get a better idea of when they will re-open.
Your attorney will know of a handful of mediators that he or she likes to use for cases like yours. What typically happens is your attorney will present opposing counsel with a list of mediators and he or she will do the same in return. They will agree to a mediator and attend mediation on the agreed upon date.
What to do if you are at the beginning of the divorce process with a high conflict spouse?
At the other end of the spectrum, you and your child’s other parent may still be married and living together. The pandemic has only made it more apparent that you all need to get a divorce for the good of your family. However, this pandemic has caused the search for an attorney and an attempt to actually file for divorce to come to a screeching halt. Are you justified in your belief that court cases will not proceed in the next weeks and months?
Filing for divorce has not changed in the coronavirus era- at least in the filing of divorces. You can go to the district clerk’s website for your county and see what the requirements are and if anything has changed recently. It should be expected that the timeline for a divorce will have lengthened considerably due to the challenges presented by closed buildings, overloaded courts and a populace that is more ill than usual.
As we discussed earlier in today’s blog post, many courts are only hearing emergency matters right now. Unless your divorce has an element of violence to it (which it may if it is high conflict) then any temporary orders hearings would likely get pushed to the back of the pack. Any guidance that your court can provide would be helpful. You can also check and see if there is a frequently asked questions area of the clerk’s website which may update you on court goings on.
What if your divorce involves a violent spouse with whom you are currently residing?
What many people didn’t consider when beginning these stay at home orders is that many people would be forced to stay at home with a spouse who is abusive. If you find yourself in a situation like this then you need to contact 9-1-1 in an emergency situation. Do not try to contact an attorney or a court if your health is in danger. Work with family members, friends and neighbors to develop a system that would allow you to be somewhere safe if your spouse attempts to become violent with you.
What to do if your child’s other parent is getting into conflicts with you over your work?
If you work in the medical field or in retail and are coming into contact with other people on a daily basis who may or may not have the coronavirus then you should be aware that your ex-spouse could file a motion to have your possession restricted during this time out of a concern for your child’s well-being. Whether or not that is possible will depend on the circumstances of your case. Consider whether a party to your case has pre-existing medical conditions or if a temporary order would be possible for your case.
Questions about high conflict matters related to family law in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about this subject please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today. We offer free of charge consultations related to family law, divorce, child custody and a range of other subjects in this field six days a week. Consultations are conducted over the phone or via video right now due to concerns about your health and that of our staff. Any additional information that you would like on family law related topics (including those in relation to COVID-19) can also be found on our blog.
We would like to thank you for stopping by today on our blog and we hope that you will return in days to come as we continue to post on matters related to the coronavirus and your family.