April 9, 2020
By Stephen Szuch, Esq., a certified specialist in Family Law by the Ohio State Bar Association
In the wake of Ohio’s efforts to contain COVID-19, a number of unique legal issues have presented themselves to changing families across Ohio.
I. STIMULUS PAYMENTS IN DISPUTE
Many individuals are anxiously awaiting their economic impact (stimulus) payments from the federal government under the CARES Act, a $2 trillion economic relief plan signed into law on March 25th. However, questions remain about when the payments will be released, additional payments for qualifying children, and how those funds will be dispersed.
Not all separated parents will agree on how to divide these payments. While reports indicate that the payments will be dispersed pursuant to the direct deposit information on file with the IRS, if a married couple has separated since their last tax filing, such a deposit may no longer be practical, and funds intended for children may be in jeopardy. Under many divorce, dissolution, and juvenile court decrees, parties alternate the right to claim children as dependents for tax purposes. In any event, it would behoove many to update or confirm their direct deposit information with the IRS.
II. COURT-ORDERED VISITS ARE EXPECTED TO CONTINUE
With regard to sharing possession of minor children, Ohio’s “Amended Director’s Stay at Home Order” specifically states that transporting children pursuant to a custody agreement is deemed “essential travel,” and should continue.
Many local courts have been forced to issue Administrative Orders clarifying that parents subject to parenting time orders shall continue to exchange their children pursuant to the terms of their existing orders. The Domestic Relations Courts in Wood and Lucas County have issued orders specifically stating the “Spring Break” for the purpose of parenting orders is limited to the timeframe designated by schools at the beginning of the school year (i.e. Spring Break for the purposes of parenting orders has not been changed as a result of school closures).
While these orders are straightforward, some visitation orders are not being followed for a variety of reasons. For example, Lucas County Children’s Services is not supervising visits at their facility, and some parents have withheld visits due to concerns for their children’s health. What if a parent has reported symptoms of COVID-19? With most courts not scheduling hearings in the near future, it is challenging to obtain prompt orders addressing concerns relating to court-ordered visits. Before you take unilateral action, we would suggest seeking professional advice.
III. COURT CLOSURES AND THE CONTINUATION OF HEARINGS
Unfortunately, many of our local courts have been forced to continue hearings in family law related matters such as adoptions, divorces, dissolutions, and custody-related and parenting time cases.
On April 1st, Judge David Lewandowski, Administrative Judge for the Lucas County Domestic Relations Court, issued an order staying all hearings, pre-trials, and other conferences or court appearances, and ordering persons with scheduled court appearances not to appear. On April 9th, Judge Lewandowski circulated a memo to local practitioners stating that he will begin hearing dissolutions and settled divorce cases by phone or Zoom (or another conferencing system) in the upcoming weeks.
NOTE: Lucas County and Wood County Domestic Relations Courts are still accepting and hearing Petitions for Domestic Violence Protection Orders. Lucas County Juvenile Court has similarly continued most of its civil cases through the end of May. New filings in domestic courts and juvenile courts in Lucas and Wood Counties are still being accepted.
These continuances have frustrated many litigants seeking a swift resolution of their pending matters. While the courts are exploring alternative hearing and appearance methods, many cases scheduled in March, April, and May have been continued to June, July, and August. In the meantime, the Supreme Court of Ohio has tolled many timing requirements. We welcome you to contact our attorneys if you have questions about continuances or potentially applicable filing dates.
Attorneys can still perform discovery tasks, negotiate, and submit settlement agreements to the courts without their clients having to appear at court. In other words, there are ways to keep cases moving, and resolve them, even though courts remain at a virtual standstill.
IV. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONCERNS
Recently, there have been reports of an increase in the number of domestic violence calls received by authorities. As stated above, the Courts are continuing to accept Petitions for Domestic Violence Protection Orders. Our attorneys can assist with questions or concerns about legal issues related to domestic violence.
If you have questions about any of the above topics, we welcome you to contact our family law attorneys at (419) 252-6237.
This article is meant to provide a summary of potentially applicable issues and updates, is not comprehensive as to all potential legal issues or topics, and is not legal advice.