Divorce, Custody, and COVID-19

April 9, 2020

With a virtual shutdown in Wisconsin courts due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), people are left to wonder what this will mean in their pending family law cases.  Fortunately, some family courts are continuing to allow access to the court for certain issues, often via telephone or video conferences.  These options are not available to all cases in every county.  For the most part, contested hearings and trials have been rescheduled to a future date.  It may be stressful to hear, but the court’s schedule may change day to day.

How can I move my case forward while the court is closed during coronavirus?

Although the court system has slowed down, there are many other ways to make forward progress on your case.  Lawyers can work with one another to find collaborative and creative solutions to reach a settlement.  In lieu of trial, this may be a time to attempt mediation or arbitration, held via video conferencing if necessary.  Many courts are still willing to finalize divorces even during the shutdown.

Take this opportunity to finish gathering your financial records to prepare your financial disclosure statements, or to conduct discovery.  This is the time to be proactive, perhaps by preparing for your hearing when court resumes, or strategizing with your attorney on how best to proceed.

What if I share custody and placement?

The anxiety that accompanies a divorce or parenting dispute is only magnified during these uncertain times.  Governor Evers issued an emergency order that allows parents to transport their minor children in compliance with custody or placement orders.  That order did not provide answers, but rather more uncertainty.  How does social distancing work between two households?  What if one parent is considered an essential worker and will work outside of the home?  How could this impact the placement schedule or access to the children?  Stay safe and stay compliant.  Follow your existing placement Orders and contact your lawyer first if you cannot comply or are concerned about the other parent’s household.  Each situation is different, and navigating through it can be tough, but our office is here to work with you.

What if I lost my job?

Many people are facing job loss or reductions in income or work hours.  If you cannot meet your support obligations, consult with your attorney.  There may be beneficial reasons to file a motion to modify support now, even if it will not be addressed by the court until a future date.

What if I am an unsafe in my home?

The court is still available to domestic violence victims who are seeking refuge.  While each county has implemented its own procedures for filing temporary restraining orders, the court is still prioritizing these requests.

Should I contact my lawyer?

Given the ever-changing landscape with the coronavirus, it is more important than ever to stay in contact with your lawyer.