With a virtual shut down in Illinois due to concerns over the spread of COVID 19, family law litigants are wondering if this will mean a standstill in their pending cases. In response, and in order to allow some court access for family law cases, counties across the state are implementing procedures for telephonic emergency hearings, the entry of agreed orders through email and even remote prove ups, where parties can appear electronically to get divorced. However, these options are not available to all parties in every county, and remote court access may not be the way to make forward progress in all cases. This has parties involved in divorce cases asking:
“How can I move my case closer to finalization while the state is effectively shut down?”
What can I do?
The current environment has most people feeling a sense of anxiety and uncertainty. For those embroiled in a divorce or parenting dispute, this is likely magnified tenfold.
However, the global pandemic and resulting restrictions have actually created an opportunity for litigants and their attorneys to think outside of the box. Since lawyers are not as busy on trial, taking depositions, and preparing for hearings, there is time to sit back, take a breath, and reflect on what can be done preemptively so that your case is in the best possible position when “business as usual” resumes.
Now is the time to be proactive.
Cook County has instituted an automatic 21 day deadline for responding to pleadings filed during the COVID 19 closure. Therefore, if you prepare and file a petition for temporary relief, your opponent is immediately forced to respond. Hopefully, by the time the Court’s reopen, you will be in a position to resolve the issue promptly through a hearing.
Come up with alternatives.
One great option for people who have certain types of disputes is videoconference mediation. With in-person mediation coming to a screeching halt, mediators have the time and ability to commit to videoconferencing and this can be a great option to get through those last few issues stalling the entry of a parenting agreement. Since Agreed Orders can be entered remotely, including final judgments, this will ensure that any agreements reached in mediation can entered in court and be enforced.
If you have recently initiated your case, take advantage of this time to gather your financial records and begin working on your Financial Affidavit. For those cases involving minor children, work with your lawyer to discuss all things parenting. Ask yourself what kind of parenting schedule will work for your family and what mechanism for decision making will be in the best interests of your child or children. Reach out to your attorney to discuss and develop these thoughts so that she can begin to draft a proposed parenting agreement.
Stay in Compliance.
Many people are facing economic uncertainty, loss of income and reduced salaries. If you are unable to meet your court ordered support obligations, consult with your attorneys immediately so that they can get a pleading on file seeking relief. Since retroactivity can only go back to the date of filing, it is in your best interest to have this issue on file even if it will not be addressed by the court until a future date.
Parenting agreements must be followed during this time, with reasonable exceptions. Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order specifically has a carve-out for essential travel, which includes travel necessary to enforce parenting time agreements. If you have concerns over your co-parent’s activities which may have put your children’s health at risk, contact your lawyer to discuss.
A prevalent concern during this time is an increase in domestic violence due to victims having nowhere to go to seek refuge from their abusers. Therefore, Petitions for Order of Protection can be filed during this time and a personal appearance in Court may not even be required for entry of a protective order.
Stay in contact.
As the situation is constantly evolving, it is crucial to stay in contact with your lawyer to determine how you can make progress in your case and seek the relief you need. Schedule a call or video conference to check in. Your legal time is a critical resource during this time. Take advantage of this opportunity to be in touch with your lawyer.