Can I still file for divorce right now? Should I wait to file a petition for modification of child support? These are common questions we’re hearing at our Fort Worth family law firm in light of COVID-19. The truth is this: If you’ve postponed a divorce or child custody suit due to shelter in place—you don’t need to. In fact, delaying action could jeopardize your finances and child custody.
Let’s take a closer look at how divorce and child custody cases are being handled in Tarrant County right now and how changes may or may not affect you.
Texas family courts are still open for business for emergencies and via videoconferencing for other matters
First things first: Yes, you can still file for divorce in the State of Texas, and exigent (essential) hearings are still taking place. These include hearings on temporary restraining orders as well as hearings for temporary support and child custody, visitation and access, etc.
Unfortunately, many people believe that shelter in place means the family court system is in a holding pattern right now. That simply is not the case. While physical access to the courts is primarily limited to emergency hearings, we are able to address many legal concerns behind the scenes (as we normally do) and via videoconferences on Zoom and other platforms.
In fact, the new world of “tele-law” has helped law firms like ours become more efficient, saving our clients time and money. Instead of waiting it out at the courthouse for several hours, we can conduct many hearings virtually—by agreement of the attorneys—with our client, opposing client and counsel, as well as the judge.
These scheduled hearings often take less than an hour, and our clients don’t need to leave home or work. Videoconferences also work well for mediation sessions.
IMPORTANT: Brush up on your technology know-how ASAP. Once you do file, you and your attorney need to be ready to present your case in two weeks. Research videoconferencing options (Zoom, Go-to-Meeting, video calls via cell phone, etc.) and practice using them with family and friends.
Five reasons you shouldn’t delay divorce and child custody matters during a shelter in place
No. 1: When a child’s safety (or yours) is at risk.
The family courts are prioritizing emergency hearings right now, and kids come first. If you think your child has been or could be physically, sexually and/or emotionally harmed by the other parent then it’s important to speak with an attorney right away. If the child is—or you are—in immediate danger, call 911 first.
We recently had a case where a grandparent was scheduled to return her grandchild to a father she strongly believed had abused the child. The grandparent thought she couldn’t get an emergency hearing due to shelter in place but fortunately, she contacted us first. Had the child been returned to the father, the grandparent would have had no standing to file a suit without the child in her care and control.
No. 2: If you don’t want to lose access to cash or financial accounts.
When you file for divorce, it’s important to get an injunction to protect community assets. If you wait to file (especially if the other party knows you want out), your spouse could cancel credit cards, drain bank accounts and even change ownership and control of your financial accounts.
While protecting your finances should always be a concern during divorce, it’s become a bigger issue during the pandemic. For one thing, money is tight for many people now. In addition, we’ve seen people use family finances as a control mechanism. This typically occurs because the “controller” falsely believes (or leads their spouse to believe) the other party can’t file for divorce right now—which simply isn’t true.
IMPORTANT: It’s ALWAYS essential to prepare yourself financially for divorce and child custody disputes. That includes saving as much money as you can and getting your own credit cards and bank account. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’re so financially squeezed that you can’t hire an attorney.
It’s also worth noting, some credit card companies are more lenient about extending credit lines during this time of crisis. Contact your credit card companies to learn more.
No. 3: If you lost your job and need a modification to child support.
When it comes to modifying child support (or custody), timing is critical. If you were just laid off in Texas, it’s important to file a petition to modify child support right away. If you don’t file a petition to modify, the amount of money you owe each month stays owed. If the court agrees to a lower amount of support, that amount typically goes into effect from the date of filing.
Conversely, if your ex was recently laid off due to COVID-19 related issues, it’s probably not a good idea to file a proactive enforcement for child support because he or she can file a countersuit to modify child support. If the other party doesn’t file a petition to modify, he or she will still be required to pay you the same amount each month.
No. 4: Because your attorney isn’t responsive.
If your attorney is more unresponsive than usual these days, it could be that he or she is overwhelmed due to cutbacks. You can change attorneys! Unlike other law firms that have laid off or furloughed their staff, the Sisemore Law Firm remains 100 percent fully staffed.
Timing and responsiveness are critical in suits pertaining to divorce and the parent-child relationship. If your attorney isn’t responding to requests from opposing counsel or the judge, those delays could compromise the financial outcome of your case or child custody. If you live in Tarrant County and surrounding counties, our team is here to help.
No. 5: If you don’t want to wait months to get to court once the pandemic has passed.
Since shelter in place took effect, many people have delayed filing for divorce or filing suits affecting the parent-child relationship. Guess what happens when the pandemic passes? All of the folks who waited to file are going to start filing at a frantic pace, which will create a huge backlog of cases in the court system.
To make matters worse in our area, as of April 1, 2020, courts in Tarrant County inherited all of the CPS cases from Kimbo Road. That’s in addition to the backlog of cases that have not been moved forward over the past month and beyond.
If you don’t want to get caught in the fray and DO want your case to be one of the first in line on the court docket, it’s best to act now. Contact your attorney to weigh your options.
Have questions about divorce and child custody in Tarrant County?
Contact the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth. Our firm is fully staffed and ready to take your calls—we’ve even extended our hours during the COVID-19 crisis. If you have questions or would like to schedule a confidential consultation with our founder Justin Sisemore, call our firm at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.
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