As communities, cities, and the nation as a whole battle the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many parents find themselves grappling with questions related to the adherence of current child custody and support orders. Further complicating matters, whereas parents normally are able to turn to the court for a timely resolution of custody and support matters, here in Ventura, the court has suspended all non-emergency hearings and trials for 90 days.
While we recognize that each family is unique and circumstances can vary dramatically from household to household, this blog in intended to give our readers general guidance and address common questions and concerns regarding child visitation as well as child and spousal support when there is loss of income or employment due to COVID-19.
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS REGARDING CHILD VISITATION/EXCHANGES
Q: The Governor has issued a “Stay at Home Order” does this mean that my children should stay in one home?
A: Your custody order is a valid court order. You should continue to adhere to the court order and continue to exchange the minor child(ren), so long as it is safe. At this time, although many jurisdictions have imposed travel restrictions, travel for custodial exchanges is still considered essential travel. However, you should discuss the precautions that each of you are taking to mitigate the risk of coronavirus, and possibly consider a plan that reduces the need for frequent travel. Additional guidance from the Courts discourage travel over 60 miles and discourages make up time. It is also advisable that even though most if not all schools are out, that parents adhere to the orders that are in place during school time and switch to the summer schedule when school would normally end.
Q: What if a parent or household member tests positive for COVID-19?
A: While custody orders are valid court orders, most custody orders in California allow parents to modify the parenting schedule so long as the parents agree on the modification in writing. Do not wait for necessity to strike. This is an excellent time to have an open and civil discussion with the other parent to come up with a plan should one of you get sick or a household member tests positive for COVID-19. Discuss and reach an agreement as to who the minor child will remain with, how long visitation will be suspended for and a procedure for how that will be determined. Offer and agree to make up time for the parent who will lose time as a result of changes to the parenting plan. Absent an agreement to the contrary, you should continue to follow your custody order.
CHILD AND SPOUSAL SUPPORT ORDERS AFTER
LOSS OF EMPLOYMENT OR REDUCTION OF INCOME DUE TO COVID-19
Q: I lost my job as a result of COVID-19 and do not have the ability to pay child and spousal support, what can I do?
A: Currently to seek a modification of a current child or spousal support order, you are required to file a motion to modify support, and generally speaking, the modification is only retroactive to the date of the filing. With many courts statewide being closed, including Ventura County, parties have the inability to file a motion to modify support.
The California Lawyers Association is actively seeking guidance and emergency relief from Governor Newsom, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, Senator Jackson and Assembly Member Stone on this issue among others and has proposed the following:
a. Taking into consideration the fact that payors of child or spousal support have no ability to file a motion to modify support if the court in their jurisdiction is closed or is not accepting filings, we seek guidance as follows:
i. Whether, in accordance with Family Code section 3653(b), a party may prepare a motion for a modification of support and serve the supported party with the motion, without filing the motion, and the court has the jurisdiction to retroactivity modify support to the later of the date of service of the motion or the date of the loss of employment or substantial reduction in income. The party seeking the reduction would then be required to file the motion and obtain a hearing date within a specific number of days after the court in that particular jurisdiction accepts filings.
ii. Whether the Legislature would consider emergency legislation providing the courts discretion to grant a retroactive modification of child or spousal support after March 19, 2020 to the earlier of the loss of employment or substantial reduction in income, or the filing of the request for order to modify support, if the motion is filed within 15 days of the court accepting filings in that particular jurisdiction.
Negley Law, APC is keeping a close eye as matters develop and are here to help if you or someone you know has any questions. Stay safe and be well. We will get through this together. If you’d like advice specific to your situation, please contact Negley Law, APC for a consult with one of our attorneys. We can be reached at: (805) 644-4222. For over 15 years, our firm has helped countless Ventura residents through divorces and other family law issues. Two of our three attorneys are Certified Family Law Specialists (CFLS) by the California Board of Legal Specialization. If you have a custody or support issue or if you are considering filing for divorce in Ventura County and have questions about the process, contact our firm today. You can schedule a free confidential legal consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. Call Negley Law, APC now at (805) 644-4222 to learn more.