COVID-19 and Pending Family Court Hearings. What now?

coronavirus-child-custodyDivorce is a challenge. Parenting time battles are hard. These are obvious statements, but what happens when we throw a coronavirus outbreak in with a pending custody hearing or a divorce trial? Even worse, what if family law matters become more complicated due to a “Stay-Home, Stay-Safe” Executive order? Now what?

What does that mean for you if you are in this situation? Let’s talk.

“Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order

On March 23, 2020, Governor Whitmer issued an Executive Order requiring residents to shelter in place and suspending in-person operations that are not necessary to sustain or protect life, through April 13, 2020. This mandate has exceptions, including one that applies to courts and government operations:

“Nothing in this order should be taken to interfere with or infringe on the powers of the legislative and judicial branches to perform their constitutional duties or exercise their authority.”

The Michigan Constitution gives our Supreme Court control over all state courts. Under that authority and in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Court issued an administrative order that limits the number of people, including staff, to no more than ten people in courtrooms and other spaces – and adhering to social distancing protocols. Further, in-person court activity is limited to only essential functions.

Do Family Court Proceedings Qualify as Essential Functions?

What is an “essential function” under Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home order? For family court matters, the Michigan Supreme Court identified those functions:

  • Limited proceedings regarding personal protection orders.
  • Activities necessary for the safety and well-being of the plaintiff, defendant, or children.
  • Proceedings involving the safe delivery of a newborn child.
  • Waivers for parental consent under the Parental Rights Restoration Act.
  • Certain juvenile delinquency proceedings if the juvenile is apprehended, detained, or in-custody.
  • Certain child protective proceedings.
  • Friend of the Court arraignments on bench warrants.
  • Other emergency motions in the discretion of the court.

Although a pending hearing or trial does not fall within the category of an “essential function,” it does not mean that the hearing or trial is canceled altogether. The Michigan Supreme Court’s administrative order also states:

“All other family court matters, including trials, must be conducted remotely using two-way interactive video technology or other remote participation tools or they must be adjourned until after April 3, 2020.”

Most courts have developed local procedures regarding they hearings or trials they will postpone or adjourn and those they will hear via telephone or videoconferencing platforms like Zoom. It is safe to assume that if you have a pending trial or hearing, however, it will still proceed unless you are notified differently by the court. If you must attend the trial or hearing in person, the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order allows you to travel “to attend legal proceedings or hearings for essential or emergency purposes as ordered by a court.”

Kreis Enderle’s Family Law Attorneys Are Available to Assist You

These are challenging and confusing times for all of us, but more difficult for divorcing spouses and parents with custody disputes. If you have questions about a family law matter, including pending family court hearings, Kreis Enderle can help. Please contact us as soon as possible – we remain open for business!

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