Family law issues during the COVID-19 pandemic

THE COVID-19 Pandemic has changed our lives almost overnight. Not only has it changed our lives in terms of our daily routine, jobs, lifestyle, but also our relationship with our family members under the Stay at Home orders in place in major cities such as Los Angeles, Divorce caused by Financial and Emotional Stress

China is a few months ahead of the US in terms of the impact of this pandemic on families. Statistics show that the number of couples filing for divorce in China is reportedly way up after long periods of COVID 19-related confinement. This gives us a glimpse of the months to come after the stay at home order has been lifted.

The rapid spread of the corona virus has destabilized every household particularly those of parents. The closure of schools and child-care facilities has created challenges for scores of parents who must figure out how to keep their children safe while continuing to work from home. The current situation has posed significant challenge to parents with existing custody orders. Many parents are attempting to renegotiate the terms of the existing custody orders at a moment when emotions run high and the Courts are closed for most hearings.

Most families have roles to play for each member of the household such as the parents getting up and going to work or the child being in school. When these roles are radically changed in a time that we’re all feeling incredibly stretched emotionally creates major stress on families. As a result of this stress, marriages may fracture and may result to divorce because the coronavirus crisis is causing many families to experience job loss from the massive layoffs caused by the shutdown of the economy. Financial stress is always one of the big stressors that lead to divorce. Parents are trying to figure out how they can support an entire family.

Effect of COVID-19 “Stay at Home Order” on Custody Orders

The stay at home order issued by both the City of Los Angeles and later the State of California has stirred a lot of confusion among divorced parents who share custody of their children. Stay at home orders have required California residents to remain at home, except if they need to go out for essential needs such as for groceries, medication or health care appointments. People can’t go into work unless they are in certain essential jobs. The stay-home orders restrict travel for unapproved purposes. As a result, divorced parents didn’t know if they were allowed to travel to bring their children back and forth to the other parent during visitation schedules. There is confusion about whether the stay-at-home order trumped the custody order or whether the court order trumped the stay-at-home order.

Custody and visitation orders are not affected by stay at home orders or other order restricting movement issued by a governmental entity that arises from the COVID-19 pandemic. The stay at home order does not change the existing parent-child custody orders that may be in place. Just the fear of pandemic is not enough to warrant keeping a child from seeing the other parent. If there is an actual threat of harm to the child, the Los Angeles Superior Court is available for ex parte emergency RFO to address these issues.

However, parents should attempt to work together first to come up with some kind of temporary agreement that works for both the parents and for the kids that accommodates the problems caused by the pandemic and modify temporarily the existing custody orders as a solution to the current environment. For example, if exercising the father’s alternate weekend visitation exposes the child to other members of the father’s new household, perhaps the parents can temporarily agree to a virtual visitations such as zoom video conferencing, face time, and other apps available that allows the father to see the child and interact the child without exposing the child to the risk of contagion. The Los Angeles Superior Court has been continuing most hearings except for emergency hearings. It would serve the parties best to co-parent and work out a temporary custody agreement which can be turned into a temporary court order.

Domestic Violence during Stay at Home Order

Many domestic violence victims live with their abusers and are now being forced to isolate with their abusers. Victims may have also lost their source of income and are having a harder time connecting with their support systems such as the victim’s family. Leaving their situation is much more difficult during the pandemic.  COVID-19 stay at home order in Los Angeles means victims might be stuck with their abusers. Victims might also be losing their job and income. For the most vulnerable people in the community, stay at home order is the same as putting them in a cage with a dangerous creature. Even though there may be an increase in domestic violence during this period, neither law enforcement nor the family courts may hear about the domestic violence and abuse because it is usually the community that reports these incidents when children go to school, when people see their friends, when people are in a situation where other people see what’s going on. Now, teachers, childcare providers and, friends are physically cut off from the people and children they normally are in contact with daily.

In addition, seeing businesses shuttered and paychecks halted has put intense pressure and hardship on a growing number of people and families who are becoming increasingly depressed. Many are self-medicating at home with drugs and alcohol. Add to that scenario the school closures and children and spouses sheltering together at home can create an extremely hostile, even dangerous, environment for many families. It is therefore important for victims to call the police or avail of the Family Courts by filing an application for a restraining order and a kick out order against the perpetrator. The Los Angeles Superior Court is available during this pandemic to issue such emergency orders to protect the victims of domestic violence.

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Please note that this article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice.  The article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information.  This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed.  The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you.  This article does create any attorney client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Kenneth U. Reyes, P.C.  This article is not a solicitation.

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Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes is a Certified Family Law Specialist. He was President of the Philippine American Bar Association. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles and California State University, San Bernardino School of Business Administration. He has extensive CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, APLC is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 747, Los Angeles, CA, 90010. Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail Kenneth@kenreyeslaw.com or visit our website at Kenreyeslaw.com

Atty. Kenneth Reyes
Atty. Kenneth Reyes

Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes is a Certified Family Law Specialist. He was President of the Philippine American Bar Association. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He has extensive CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, P.C. is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 747, Los Angeles, CA, 90010. Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail kureyeslaw@gmail.com or visit our website at Kenreyeslaw.com.

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