Are the Family Courts in Wisconsin Open under COVID-19 Restrictions?

Courts in Wisconsin, and in particular the family law  and divorce Courts, have been severely affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the beginning of the pandemic and the Wisconsin Safer at Home orders, most courts either cancelled hearings, adjourned them or started doing hearings by alternative means.  Some hearings continued to be held via telephone or Zoom.  However, there are many hearings which were cancelled and still need to be rescheduled, although ,the courts are slowly starting to do that.

Even though the current Safer at Home order in Wisconsin expires on May 26, 2020, it is not certain that the courts will be reopening to pre-COVID-19 operations after that time.  In Milwaukee County, for example, they have indicated they will not doing in person hearings in the near future and likely not until after July, 2020.  All hearings currently on the court’s calendars, if not rescheduled, will be conducted by Zoom or telephone.  Trials or contested hearings, however, will still likely be rescheduled until after in person hearings are being conducted.  Each judge is using his or her own discretion as to how they want to handle certain types of hearings.

In Waukesha County, they have not yet announced what their plans will be.  They are just now starting to reschedule previously cancelled Pretrial Conferences and Status Hearings.  Those hearings will likely be by telephone.  They have not announced plans to reschedule or resume Family Court Commissioner hearings or contested hearings.

In Washington and Ozaukee counties, most hearings have been and are proceeding by Zoom or by telephone.

In all counties, they are continuing to hold hearings on emergency matters such as domestic or child abuse restraining orders and custody/placement enforcement petitions.

If you are a client of our firm, the attorneys and staff at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach will continue to keep you apprised of the status of your court hearings as soon as we receive that information from the Courts.

Guidelines for Parents Who Are Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID19 Pandemic

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in conjunction with the Association of Family Conciliatory Courts has put out seven guidelines for parents who are sharing placement of their children during the pandemic. Wonderful advice from the top family lawyers and mental health professionals in the nation.

From the leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis:

Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML)
Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC)
Annette Burns, AAML and Former President of AFCC
Yasmine Mehmet, AAML
Kim Bonuomo, AAML
Nancy Kellman, AAML
Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC
Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC
Jill Peña, Executive Director of AAML
Peter Salem, Executive Director of AFCC

1. BE HEALTHY.

Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.

2. BE MINDFUL.

Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.

3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.

As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.

4. BE CREATIVE.

At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.

5. BE TRANSPARENT.

Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.

6. BE GENEROUS.

Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.

7. BE UNDERSTANDING.

There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.

Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.

 

Wisconsin Family Law and COVID-19

WE ARE HERE FOR YOU!

In response to the Coronavirus or COVID-19, the health and welfare of our clients and our employees are our top priorities. We are closely monitoring the rules and procedures for our state and the courts, and the CDC recommendations which are constantly changing. Therefore, please visit the Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC COVID-19 page for the most updated information.

As always, please feel free to contact us by telephone or email, as we are working remotely and are available for our potential and existing clients. Stay safe and healthy!