During this unprecedented time, it is extremely important to understand how COVID-19 is impacting different areas of the law. I am starting a series of newsletter articles, website blogs, and videos in which I will discuss how it has affected the areas of legal practice that I cover in Massachusetts.
At the moment, courthouses are not hearing cases in person except in extremely rare emergency situations. At the onset of Covid, most cases were simply being continued and not addressed. Many cases are now conducted “virtually.” This has generally meant that hearings were held by phone for most local courts, but now cases are beginning to be held by Zoom video conferencing.
Generally speaking, this pandemic should not have an effect on custody and parenting schedules as ordered by the court. Unless you and the other party agree to an alternative plan than what was allowed by the court, the arrangements shouldn’t be changed. However, if you feel the pandemic has caused a situation in which your child’s health is truly at risk, you should certainly consider speaking to an attorney about filing an emergency motion( or motion to expedite) to help resolve the issue.
This past week I had four court hearings related to parenting issues that were related to the Coronavirus. The cases have varied from trying to get children out of foster care and into the home of a family member to simply attempting to set up video visits with the child. It’s a difficult time right now but I still hope that all parties attempt to do what is in the child’s best interest keeping that in mind makes cases easier to resolve and everyone’s lives just a little bit less stressful.
The idea of social distancing is brand new. It has never really been addressed by the legal system so we are all trying to figure out how it applies in different cases. In parenting arrangements social distancing plays a huge role and presents many questions we haven’t had to think about before. Some recent issues that I have come across with clients in the past couple weeks include: What happens if one parent takes the child to see friends/relatives/shopping and so forth and the other parents thinks it is too risky? What happens if someone in one household isn’t obeying the social distancing measures while in the other household the person is taking strict precautions to ensure their health? What happens if one parent has been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed symptoms of COVID-19? What happens if one of the parties works at a high-risk job, or is an essential worker? What happens if the child is in foster care and DCF prohibits in person visits, allowing only phone calls (even if that child is too young to speak)? These are just a few examples of the countless ways the pandemic has affected numerous cases.
As you can see, there are so many new COVID-19 related issues and social distancing rules that have impacted the law in general and my practice in particular. While we have never encountered anything like this previously, we are trying to adapt as quickly as possible and ensure that these questions are not only answered, but that the solutions are just.