COVID-19: Changes to Family Law Practice
Reviewed and approved by Kathryn Wayne-Spindler
Many aspects of how a family law practice operates changed with the rest of the world when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In-person consultations and meetings were replaced with virtual or telephone meetings. Hearings in the courtroom were replaced with telephone or virtual hearings via Zoom. All types of matters were delayed due to the shutdown of courts and lawyers who were adapting to the new norm.
Rule of law, however, remains the same. Courts continued to enforce parenting time schedules. Any agreements should have been followed even if there was a disruption caused by COVID-19. This meant that if a child’s school was going to be remote that this should not interfere with the parenting time schedule that is in place. Parenting time arrangements should not have changed due to the pandemic, unless there was an agreement between the parties to change the agreement due to the pandemic.
Family lawyers had been put into tough situations that required creative and practical solutions. For example, what happens when a parent is a first responder and has a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19? Should this parent lose their parenting time with their child? Many family lawyers advised their clients that the parent should not lose their parenting time and the parties should work together to find a solution. This could have included virtual parenting time or even telephone communication with the parent and the minor child.
COVID-19 did not create a new body of law, as the legal principles and precedents should not have been changed or altered due to the pandemic. Questions arose as to what should happen, but since legal principles and precedents did not change, the answers to some of the questions that were asked are property division should not merge; spousal support or child support should not be self-modifying; and discovery should not be delayed.
At some point there will be new legislative mandates to accommodate for pandemics, war, and global depressions, but as of now, we are to follow the statutory requisites and to continue to handle legal issues as done so in the past.
Regarding issues related to children, the focus should have remained on the best interests of the child.
Family law attorneys had to find alternative ways to resolve issues caused by COVID-19. Due to the lack of in-person trials, alternative ways of resolving and trying matter should have been considered. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom and telephone hearings became the new normal. This became a crucial must for attorneys to adapt to in order to conduct business. Clients should have and should continue to be reminded that even though it is a Zoom hearing, they are still attending court. This means that a client should appear promptly, look appropriate for court (as if you were in person), sit in a chair, proper lighting and appropriate décor in the background.
The role of a family attorney did not change, attorneys continue to be advocates for their clients, even during the global pandemic. Attorneys should still continue to uphold the law and precedent of any issues that a client may have.
Family lawyers are expected to be able to accept, adopt and apply new methods of court appearances and differing procedure. This may not always be an easy process to be done, but all things come to a pass.
The attorneys at Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates are experienced attorneys who change with the times to meet the needs of their clients. Contact the Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000 for assistance. The attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates practice law throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Genesee and Livingston counties as well as four mid-Michigan counties Clare, Gladwin, Ogemaw and Roscommon. The attorneys handle cases in Milford; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Wixom; Commerce; Walled Lake; Waterford; West Bloomfield; Linden; Fenton; Flint; Grand Blanc; Holly; South Lyon; New Hudson; Howell; Clare; Gladwin; Houghton Lake; Higgins Lake; and many more Michigan communities. And soon to be opening another office in Dadeville, Alabama.
For more information, please see article “How COVID-19 Has Changed the Practice of Family Law” by Matthew P. Barach, www.familylawyermagazine.com