Although restrictions and stay-at-home orders largely have been implemented on a state-by-state basis since the pandemic began, every state has, at some point, faced at least some restrictions. In some cases, mask mandates and social distancing were required, while others faced massive stay-at-home orders that shut down large segments of society and infrastructure, including the courts.
This has created some challenges for those who are navigating the family court system. Maybe your divorce or child custody hearing was delayed, a petition to adjust child support or alimony was not heard, or you found yourself unable to wade through other complex family issues.
Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 — specifically the restrictions created to prevent its spread — changed the practice of family law in South Carolina and throughout the U.S. What do these changes mean for your case and what can you do to move forward?
Fewer Cases Heard in Court
The scramble to create safe ways to resume proceedings left the courts with a backlog of cases. When paired with a restricted schedule upon reopening, this left a lot of families in limbo. You may have been unable to dispute a prenup, complete equitable distribution of assets, or resolve complicated financial concerns.
Many courts chose to prioritize critical cases. If, for example, you found yourself dealing with a DSS matter, your case might have been heard sooner to assess the best interests of children. However, the only option for many people has been to simply wait it out and find other ways to resolve practical concerns in the meantime.
Social distancing and capacity restrictions led to the rise in virtual hearings, whereby all parties involved — from judges and attorneys to plaintiffs and defendants — appeared for hearings via video or phone. While this practice does not work for every case, especially in jury trials, it has made it possible for certain family court cases to proceed.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
What if you have been unable to nail down a date for a court hearing, but you cannot stand to hold off on issues like separation, petitions for visitation, and so on? In this case, you have the option to explore alternative avenues of resolution, such as mediation or even working with a certified arbitrator to whom you give the authority to make a final, binding decision.
The Rules Remain the Same
Regardless of whether you are able to resolve your family law concerns, you are required to abide by any existing court orders for child custody, support, or alimony. These orders are enforceable, and before changes can be made, the order must be approved by the court.
If you are not sure how to proceed, the best option is to seek legal advice, support, and representation. A knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney from Bleecker Family Law can help you to understand your options and come up with creative solutions while you await your hearing. Contact our qualified and compassionate team members to request a consultation or to learn more.