Unprecedented times call for creative strategies to resolve family law cases. Whether its domestic violence, support or property issues, unless the matter is truly an emergency, family law lawyers and litigants must now think outside the “court” (i.e. outside the box) to move their family law matter to resolution. The reason for this is that the courts remain closed though a slow re-opening is scheduled for May 2020. As a result of the court closure and the slow re-opening, we will be faced with an extraordinary backlog that may cause further delays for family law matters to be resolved through the court.
Recognizing the unique nature of the current pandemic and thus its effect on the courts, lawyers are faced with the challenge of developing methods and plans to get a case to the finish line. The following are some strategies to consider in getting your case closer to resolution in light of the current impediments facing the family law courts:
Support Issues: One of the many ramifications of this pandemic has been the significant financial impact affecting people across our country. Many jobs have been furloughed; jobs lost, and businesses are closing. Parties should consider revising their household budgets for survival mode and lawyers should consider negotiating agreements to allow parties to withdrawal from, or liquidate, certain assets to ease the financial burdens for families. There is no need to wait until the parties get before the court to start addressing the financial hardship caused by this pandemic.
Property Issues: Start working now to narrow the issues to ultimately be resolved by a judge. Why not see if the other side will agree that only a specific bank account will be used to fund household expenses, or that a particular credit card will be used by a spouse for the children’s expenses? These kinds of interim agreements, though seemingly minor, may help streamline a case and limit the amount of issues (and the acrimony) in dispute once the case finally comes before the court.
Domestic Violence: Again, there is no need to wait until the hearing on the domestic violence restraining order to propose that the other party (or both parties) start telemedicine for mental health treatment, batterers treatment programs, online anger management services or co-parenting classes. Putting in the work now, before the hearing, can help the family heal while time passes until the hearing occurs. Further, commencing the “work” now may place a party in a more favorable position before the court when the domestic violence restraining order hearing finally occurs.
Reconsider the Tone of the Case: This is a unique time in our lives which equates to the development of creative strategies to help family law litigants. Effective communication between counsel and the parties, as well as civility between all involved is critical now, more than ever. Kindness in litigation should not be deemed to be a sign of weakness but rather a strength to assist a family to get to a better place while waiting for their day in court.
While COVID-19 remains infectious, so is creativity. As Albert Einstein once said, “creativity is contagious. Pass it on”.