Family Law and Covid 19

Family Law and Covid 19

2023 UPDATE:  It’s been three years since our country shut down due to the Covid 19 virus. We hunkered down in our “shelter-in-place” and finally emerged months, perhaps a year or so later. Unfortunately, Covid-19 and its many variants is going to remain with us for the rest of our lives. Although the information below was written in the midst of the “shelter-in-place” the advice is still relevant today. There are still many cases where a parent uses Covid-19 as a means to withhold a child from the other parent. Take heed and be aware that withholding based upon Covid-19 will not be tolerated by the Courts. Follow the advice written below and work with the other parent and not against the other parent.

Covid-19 – What Do I Do?

During these uncertain times, the number one family law questions right now are:

  1. What do I do about visitation between the child and the other parent or myself?
  2. I lost my job what is going to happen to my child support?

First, continue to maintain your parenting plan/temporary visitation order unless the two of you come to a mutually agreed upon decision to deviate from the plan/order. If you do agree to deviate, document the agreement in writing whether by text, email or written document. Parenting plans/temporary visitation orders are deemed essential orders and need to be followed. If a child is immunocompromised then you need to talk with your attorney.

Second, even though schools are suspended for the next month, parents should continue to follow the school’s schedule that would have been in place if school was still in session. In other words, if your school is out for Good Friday and your plan/order says one of you gets Thursday through Sunday on 3-day weekends then follow that part of the plan.

Third, and finally, carry your parenting plan/visitation orders with you in case you get stopped while out and about doing the exchange.


Recently, I attended a webinar in which Judges from across the state participated in an answer/question session.  Following are some of their thoughts:

*Be safe and stay at home but do not use Covid 19 as a reason to withhold

*A fear is not simply enough to stop custody exchanges

*If parents cannot cooperate during this time of pandemic then it is going to be very hard to persuade the Court that they will cooperate with each other at other times and on smaller issues.

  • Parents are cooperating during these unsettling times will be looked upon more favorably when it comes time to decide whether joint custody or sole custody is in the best interests of the child(ren).
  • A parent who had unilaterally decided that since school has been suspended that it is time to either move to the summer schedule or to withhold completely will be looked upon quite unfavorably
  • If someone in one of the households has been exposed or is exhibiting symptoms AND the child has been in both homes during the 2 weeks prior, then it is presumed that the child has already been exposed.
    • Quarantine both houses meaning neither house goes anywhere else until the 2 weeks is up
    • Continues to exchange the child with the other parent
    • Follow all medical advice if there is a parent who is positive in the other home
  • If someone in one of the households has been exposed or is exhibiting symptoms and the child has NOT been in both homes during the 2 weeks prior then you must seek medical advice and follow it but consider keeping the child out of that home and then make up the time later.
  • If the other home tests positive and the child has not been there during the 2 weeks prior to the positive test then you must seek medical advice and follow it but consider keeping the child out of the home and then make up the time later.
  • If the child is immunocompromised and the other parent refuses to temporarily stop visitation then seek and follow medical advice and talk to your attorney
  • If the child lives with a parent who is immunocompromised then it may be necessary for the child to go live with the other parent until the danger has passed and then make up the time later.
  • If one parent is a healthcare worker/front line worker look for alternative ways to engage in visitation or if there is reason why a child is not going to the other house then offer Virtual Visitations even if your parenting plan does not specifically mention it. The parent who is willing to give the other parent unfettered access to the child will be looked upon favorably:
    • Zoom/Facetime/Skype/Telephone calls/Facebook messenger/Portal – you can eat a meal together, read a book, play a game, etc.
    • Arrange for a walk in the park where each person and child has taken the necessary precautions and maintains social distancing
  • If one parent is a healthcare worker/front line worker and refuses to stop visitation talk to an attorney
  • If one parent is supposed to only get supervised visitation then:
    • Supervised due to physical harm – permit the Virtual Visitation
    • Supervised due to emotional harm – try Virtual Visitation but if it becomes a problem then may need to end it
  • If a Motion for Contempt has been filed, it is most likely not going to be granted but it will depend upon the specific circumstances of the case plus that the answer may change down the road. Right now, the situation is too new to really know what hindsight will tell us when handling these issues.
  • If a Family Access Motion has been filed, it will most likely be granted especially if the parent not getting visitation is not be offered compensatory time, but it will still depend upon the specific circumstances of the case
  • One parent should not make the other parent choose between keeping their visitation or keeping their job especially right now when unemployment is so high. Again, fear is not enough to withhold in the majority of cases.
  • If the other parent lives out of state, then parents need to be looking at travel by car rather than by airplane. Even time spent in a car is quality time with your child.  Consider extending the time that the other parent receives to reduce time on the road for the child.
  • If the parent who is supposed to pay child support has lost their job that parent must still continue to pay something to demonstrate their willingness to continue to support their child. The other parent needs to demonstrate patience.
    • If the parent paying child support loses their job due to the current pandemic, then that is a temporary loss in income versus those who simply choose to remain home to shelter in place – pay something – don’t completely forget your obligation
    • If the case is nearing a settlement, then look at agreeing to child support but setting the start date out a couple of months for the paying parent
  • If a parent fails to take a child in for testing against medical advice, then it may be necessary to talk with an attorney and hold a hearing.
  • Demands by one parent to split any stimulus money received by the other parent will not be heard by the courts unless the check has been sent out in both names, but the Courts feel that will be a rare circumstance

If you have additional questions or concerns please talk to your attorney and they will help you out to the best of their abilities.

Posted by Keith

Custody Cases – What to Expect

Custody Cases – What to ExpectDiscovery:  During the initial whirlwind of your divorce, you will hear phrases like “Rule 68”, “interrogatories”, “request for production of documents”, “income and expense” and “assets and debts”. You will be handed page after page of forms to fill out and suddenly your head is swimming. You are already overwhelmed with the fact that your marriage has ended and now you are being bombarded.  The best piece of advice I can give to you at this point is to breathe and not to panic.

Rule 68 is a local rule that requires a mandatory exchange of paperwork in every divorce such as your income tax returns for the last three years and the most recent 6 paychecks. Rule 68 sets forth which documents must be exchanged and provides a time frame for when everything should be exchanged and/or answered.

The statement of income and expense form seeks information regarding your income, including withholding information, as well as your monthly expenses for yourself and any children that might be living with you. The statement of assets and debts seeks information about your assets such as cars, real property, certificates of deposits and your debts such as credit cards. On the assets portion, there is a place to list out household furnishings and a place for you to note who you believe should receive the items at the end of the divorce.  The best way to approach these two forms is to complete one section at a time without worrying about the rest of the document.

Separate from the Rule 68 are other forms of discovery. Interrogatories are a series of questions designed to elicit information specific to your case. The Request for Production of Documents is a series of questions which ask you to provide copies of items such as your bank statements or your mental or medical health records. Finally, Admissions are a series of questions that have either “admit” or “deny”. All three types of discovery need to be answered or objected to within 30 days.  This is especially true for Admissions. Failure to answer those particular set of questions within the necessary timeframes could result in the court believing that you have admitted all of the questions which could seriously damage and/or hinder your case.

Parent Education:  In cases involving children, you may be required to attend a parent education class. The purpose of the class is to “educate parents as to the possible detrimental effects of court actions on children and how to avoid these negative effects.” Depending upon the county, there may be deadlines to complete the class.

High Conflict:  In some counties, in highly contested cases, the parents may be ordered to attend an additional class that deals with high conflict. The end result of these classes is to help parents remember that while they are dealing with their own emotional trauma, they must be open to the fact that children experience their own emotional trauma during family law cases.

Alternative Dispute Resolution:  In Greene County the parties are ordered to attend ADR classes whereas in other counties the parties may be ordered to attend mediation.

Trial:  Unless your case ends in a settlement, then your case will go to trial. If you do not have counsel the judge may remind you that you will be held to the standard of an attorney and not given any special leeway because you are unrepresented. While you may be given some leeway, do not expect it. Even if you are represented by counsel being prepared for trial is as important for the client as it is for his/her attorney. Your attorney relies on your knowledge of the facts to prepare properly for trial. The days before trial, communication between the attorney and the client is even more important than at any other time.

On the day of trial, your appearance speaks volumes to the judge. You should be well groomed and well dressed. You should also be respectful of the judge and follow the bailiff’s instructions immediately. In smaller counties like Webster County, the bailiff is the judge’s only direct employee and in all courtrooms the bailiff is the judge’s first defense from angry participants.

In most courts, if they have not been handled already, the first course of business are pre-trial motions. These motions include limiting evidence, calling for “the rule” on witnesses (requiring non-party witnesses to sit outside until called for specifically) and an announcement of “ready for trial.” The judge will then probably ask whether a settlement has been reached or whether the parties want time to attempt to settle without trial. Parties can settle some issues and go to trial on the remaining unsettled issues.

Settlement:  In my office, settlement will be discussed repeatedly from the first consultation to the day of trial and sometimes even after trial but before a judgment is issued.  The parties themselves can talk to each other at any time and come to any agreement they wish, and our office always encourages it. Attorneys have an ethical and legal duty to present any and all settlements offered, even if it is absolutely detestable and the attorney feels completely confident his/her client will refuse it. That being said, clients who can settle are happier on a whole with the results than clients who leave it up to the judge in trial. If no settlement is forthcoming the attorneys will announce ready for trial.

Once trial has begun you will immediately recognize that it is an event bound by hundreds of rules. There are rules of evidence, rules of procedure, rules of decorum and many other miscellaneous rules. These rules often refer back to the original documents in the case, such as whether you asked for maintenance or attorneys fees in your Petition. If you did not ask for these items then opposing counsel will object if you request them at trial and the court will likely sustain the objection.

Other rules include what evidence can be admitted in trial. The most common type of evidence in custody cases is testimony of the parties which is otherwise known as “giving their side of the story.” It is crucial that you are both honest and perceived as being honest. The judge will weigh your credibility against your evidence and if you are not believable then your evidence will lose weight to the judge. This could decide your case. Being honest with your attorney is tantamount to him/her presenting your best case. ALWAYS provide your attorney with all the information requested, and even any other information that may not have been requested, in order for the attorney to be prepared if that information is presented at trial by the opposing party.

After trial is over the judge may make an immediate ruling and ask attorneys to prepare documents for his signature or take the case under advisement and ask the attorneys to prepare evidentiary arguments for his review. There are numerous post-trial motions that can extend a case but suffice it to say that most cases end at trial and the judge is prepared to enter judgment fairly quickly. The best statement I can make about trial is “whoever is best prepared usually wins.” An attorney needs the client’s full assistance to be prepared. Make yourself available, open up to your attorney, and give him/her everything he/she needs to present your case in the best light possible. And remember, throughout this whole process…breathe.

Posted by Keith


How Do You Begin?

Spring brings thoughts of birth and rebirth but for many, becoming pregnant may be medically dangerous or impossible which makes adoption a beautiful and loving choice for them. Unfortunately it may seem difficult to know how to begin. To simplify matters, think of adoptions in this way – agency adoptions which involve a state child welfare agency placing a child for adoption and private adoptions which include either placement by a parent privately or placement by a private domestic or international agency; and step-parent adoptions.

As a birth parent, choosing to free your child for adoption is a loving and beautiful choice. Many parents fear the label of “bad parent” if they place their child for adoption when it may be the most selfless act of love that a parent can ever make. As a proud adoptee I simply want to help children achieve the life that they so richly deserve.

To locate an agency the internet is a valuable resource. For the Missouri Children’s Division, go to the Missouri Children’s Division where you can find a wealth of information to begin the process. For domestic or international adoptions click go to Adoption Agencies By State to find a list of agencies by state. It is important to look up any reviews of the agency you want to work with and try to locate a parent group for advice and support from those who have been through the process already.

In all but a select few situations, you must go through a home study. If you use a state agency, you might be asked to go through classes as many adoptions begin as foster placements during which a home study will be completed.  The home study is a written report to the court which includes information regarding the condition of your home as well as your educational, financial, marital, medical and psychological status. Things you might be asked to do include providing the names of personal and professional references, undergoing a physical, and providing information about your family history. You must also undergo a criminal background check which might include a check of the state’s child abuse and neglect registry and submitting your fingerprints to the FBI. The report’s conclusion is whether you would be recommended as an adoptive placement. In many cases, there may be a cost associated with the home study.

Except in exceedingly rare situations, you must have an approved home study to complete your journey. The one case where a home study may be waived is in a step-parent adoption where the ex-spouse has signed a voluntary consent to the adoption. However, you will still have to undergo a criminal background check.

In private and state agency adoptions, the home study will come first.  In state agency adoptions where you are the foster parent, you will have gone through a home study to ensure that you are suitable to accept placement of a child as a foster parent.  The home study will then be updated and turned into an adoption home study once you are chosen through a process called an adoption staffing.  In private adoptions that do not include an agency the home study will be ordered by your attorney during the process and after the child has been placed with you. This holds true for step-parent adoptions as well if the non-custodial parent has not signed a consent.

In private agency and private placement adoptions the birth parents will sign a power of attorney handing over legal authority to either the agency or the adoptive parents.  The birth parents will also sign a consent to termination of their parental rights.  In cases of newborns, this permits the adoptive parents to go home with the child.

At some point, depending upon when an attorney became involved, the paperwork process begins.  In all but state agency adoptions, the paperwork can be filed with the court immediately (or in the case of newborns 48 hours after the baby is born).  In state agency adoptions, the adoptive parents enter into a contract with the state known as an adoption subsidy.  This is a contract between the adoptive parent and the state wherein the state offers to perform certain tasks such as maintaining the child on Medicaid, covering certain medical and/or mental health needs for the child, and paying for the legal fees associated with the adoption.  In the contract is a start date. Depending upon which county the adoption is being filed in the paperwork can either be filed immediately or only after the start date however, regardless of the county the adoption cannot be completed until after the start date.  Each county handles the start date a little differently.  It is vitally important to know when the start date is because completing an adoption before the start date nullifies the contract and, at least the legal fees, will be the responsibility of the adoptive parent.

Once the paperwork is filed, it is time to schedule the matter for a transfer of custody hearing.  At that hearing, the court will grant legal custody with the adoptive parents.  After that, under Missouri law, six months must pass before the adoption can be finalized.  In some cases, where a person has had “lawful and actual” custody of the child for a period of six months or longer the transfer of custody period may be waived.  This is in instances of step-parent adoptions, foster children, children under guardianship, and, other limited situations.

In either case, at the hearing to finalize the adoption, the Court terminates the parental rights of the biological parents and finds the adoptive parents to be the natural parents.  Birth certificates are ordered, names are changed, and the child is now deemed to be the child of the adoptive parents as though born to them.

This is a short explanation of the process.  There are more steps involved.  Many attorneys will advertise that they handle adoptions even though they have never filed a single one.  Adoptions are complex and require strict adherence to Missouri Law.  Any failure to complete a step along the way could subject the adoption to being overturned down the road.  Speak with several attorneys before choosing one so that you are comfortable that you have chosen an attorney knowledgeable in the adoption process.

Posted by Keith