For many, co-parenting is hectic without a global pandemic halting all sense of stability and normalcy. Instead of worrying about when and where you will exchange your children with a disagreeable co-parent, now you are worried about every nuanced detail that could become a co-parenting nightmare during COVID19 quarantines and closures.
No two families are alike and your situation includes a number of unique factors. Are you trying to make sense of an existing parenting plan that didn't spell everything out? Has communication broken down between you and your co-parent? Did your existing court date get rescheduled or do you need to get one rescheduled? Are you worried about exchanging your child or children to a home that may have an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure?
If you have an attorney who already represents you in your child custody case, reach out to them. If you don't have an attorney, try calling those that you know of in your community or ask your trusted friends, family, and colleagues for referrals about who may be a good fit for your situation.
What Are Idaho Courts Doing About Current Divorce and Child Custody Cases?
Perhaps more pressing are the questions about how to navigate demands related to an ongoing legal dispute. Are you required to hand your child over to a co-parent who is exhibiting illness symptoms or shares a home with someone who is? Do you still have to pay child support if you aren't working right now and money is unexpectedly tight? You are not the only person asking yourself how to handle these situations and recent state-wide court responses may answer your questions.
The Idaho Supreme Court has issued three orders for all Idaho attorneys, judges, and court staff and personnel to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first order was issued state-wide on March 13, 2020, and went into effect March 16, 2020. It excuses you or any party from an in-person appearance in your civil child custody dispute unless an emergency is being addressed. While you may be asked to appear in court by telephone instead of being in the actual courtroom, your case very well may be postponed to another time. Specifically:
All civil trials, hearings, and motions should be postponed and rescheduled for a later date unless the assigned judge finds the proceedings can be heard and adequately recorded through telephonic or video means.
-Idaho Supreme Court Response to COVID-19 Emergency and Order, dated March 13, 2020
The full Order dated March 13, 2020, is accessible here. Legal advice on whether your case should be heard in-person or not is an important step if you're worried about a child custody hearing or other family law matter. Did you plan on having witnesses or being able to question the other side's witnesses. If your court dates haven't already been rescheduled, an important next step may be finding out whether your case is eligible for a continuation and what needs to be done in order to make that happen.
On March 24, 2020, the Idaho Supreme Court issued additional details adding to their original COVID-19 Order and increased protections for public safety and emphasized Idaho's commitment to your health and safety. To view the full Amended Order, click here. It is clear that if you have high-risk health concerns for you or someone close to you, you will not be required to be in court until the Orders are no longer in effect. In fact, if you are exhibiting symptoms of illness you will be asked to leave the courthouse at this time.
Ultimately, a third Order regarding limited courthouse access was issued from the Idaho Supreme Court one day later on March 25, 2020. How is it different than the first two? There are several key provisions that differ and may be of utmost importance to you in an existing case. First, deadlines and rescheduling of hearings and whether certain court or legal rules apply to your case will be extended until April 16, 2020 (when courts are presumed to resume normal operations). This includes the filing of responsive pleadings and notices of appearances if you were recently served with a new child custody (or divorce) case and don't know how you'll respond on time during the quarantine or find an attorney during this time of isolation. It doesn't hurt to contact the clerks and let them know you will be responding, either on your own or with an attorney as soon as you can. However, the newest Order authorizes judges to decide certain motions without a hearing. If you have one pending before the court contact an attorney with questions about what kind of decisions can be made in your case without you there.
While some deadlines may be delayed to accommodate COVID-19 concerns and the burden it places on all of us, certain court deadlines remain in effect during this time even though there is limited court accessibility. It is very important to know the Order does NOT excuse all deadlines and states the following:
THIS ORDER DOES NOT EXTEND ANY DEADLINE FOR A PARTY TO COMPLY WITH A NON-PROCEDURAL ORDER OR JUDGMENT OF A COURT. By way of illustration only, if a party has been previously ordered to produce discovery, pay child support, comply with a parenting time schedule, or transfer title to property, the party must comply with that deadline. Ifthe party cannot comply with the order or judgment for reasons related to Director Jeppesen's Order to Self-Isolate or for any other reason, the party must seek relief from the issuing court by filing a motion. Administrative District Judges are authorized to enter administrative orders extending deadlines to comply with substantive orders or judgments of the court such as deadlines to comply with community service requirements.
-Idaho Supreme Court Emergency Reduction In Court Services and Limitation of Access to Court Facilities Order (In re: COVID-19 Response), dated March 25, 2020
If you have an existing parenting plan you must abide by the court order that issued it unless you meet one of the exceptions in the newest Order. Even if you think you meet an exception, take the time to review the final Order here and discuss with an attorney. If you are concerned about high-risk exposure or think an emergency may arise if you follow prior court orders or other troubling circumstances, seek court assistance or call an attorney right away. You may need to file a motion for relief or risk violating an order. Child support orders are still in effect as well as any order directing you or the other party to produce Discovery in your case. The various and recent Idaho Supreme Court COVID-19 orders have a lot of information in them and may change again.
What We Do Know and What We Can Expect
There are many unknowns going on in the world, and neighborhoods, around us. Despite that, it is important to take inventory of what we do know and what we can expect. You can expect to be reasonably excused from court if you are ill or exposed to someone who is or have extenuating circumstances because of a vulnerable person close to you. We know the courts are accommodating telephone hearings and delaying deadlines for responding to certain civil legal actions. We also know courts are expecting parents and parties to follow existing court orders, including ordered parenting plan, unless an exception exists. We can expect child support orders to remain in effect and for parties in a legal matter to continue to follow court orders about their case even their hearings or trial is delayed.
We also know this won't least forever and that while this may be incredibly tough to navigate, people are generally understanding and many of the Idaho orders shared here show you that our courts want you to be safe and still have a fair chance in legal proceedings you have pending during this time.
If you feel you or your child are experiencing an emergency related to COVID-19, call an appropriate resource for your emergency right away such as your health care provider or 911 for urgent health care needs or your attorney for urgent legal concerns.