Co-Parenting in the Face of a Pandemic
Families with children who are dealing with (or have dealt with) divorce are facing a myriad of concerns in how to co-parent in light of the global challenges keeping us all confined to our homes.
Thankfully, many family law attorneys and Judges are forward-thinking, and can answer most concerns on how to make decisions together in these completely unforeseeable and unimaginable times.
Family law practitioners and Judges have faced questions ranging from: “Can I take our children to Florida to see grandma and grandpa?” (this was in the early stages), to “Will I be forced to turn the children over to the other parent who might have been exposed to Corona due to his/her lifestyle choices?”
Hopefully this overview will help some Illinois families who are unsure how to proceed to better understand how Cook County and surrounding counties are handling these issues.
Governor Pritzker, (thankfully) included the following very specific provision in one of his Executive Orders in Response to COVID-19 regarding parenting time:
“Paragraph 14(e): Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement.”
Additionally, Illinois’ Courts have released General Orders to help guide attorneys and litigants on temporary procedures and protocols to keep moving cases forward.
A brief summary of Cook County and surrounding counties’ General Orders are as follows:
Most matters are rescheduled for a period of thirty (30) days from the original scheduled date. If this date falls on a weekend, the matter is continued to the following business day.
Emergency motions are permitted and will be transmitted via email to the emergency Judge on-call. The challenge now facing attorneys is determining what a court would deem an actual emergency.
Grace G. Dickler, Presiding Judge of Domestic Relations in Cook County, strongly encouraged all parties to act in the best interest of their children. She admonished parents against taking acts that would “imperil the physical health of any child”, including unnecessary or discretionary travel during these times.
Any Orders of Protection that were to expire between March 17, 2020 and April 15, 2020, are automatically extended and rescheduled for thirty (30) days from their current scheduled court date. Most likely, this date will be extended considering what we are hearing in the press.
Cook County continues to offer mediation services and the General Order allows people to attend mediation remotely (via telephone). All Orders requiring a parent education class are now accepting online parenting classes as sufficient.
Non-emergency motions can be filed and noticed to the next regularly scheduled court date after court resumes its normal operations, but no earlier than April 15, 2020. Upon service of the non-emergency motion, the responding party shall automatically have 21 days to respond or file an objection; the movant shall have 7 days to file a reply thereafter.
The person asking for relief shall send, via email, copies of the motion, response and reply to the presiding judge at the time the reply is due. Subsequently, the presiding Judge shall communicate through its staff, if the court shall issue a written ruling, conduct a remote argument/hearing or defer the hearing to a date the court returns to full operation.
Thankfully, Agreed Orders may be submitted electronically for the Court’s review and approval. This motivates divorcing couples (and their attorneys) to get as much as possible determined by agreement.
Finally, divorcing couples are now allowed to finalize their matter via a prove-up by electronic means. This is a new, and long overdue, means of finalizing a divorced.
The good news is that many attorneys are required to shift gears and get into problem solving mode rather than attack mode. Obviously, this is always in a family’s best interest, any time it is possible.
All matters are rescheduled and continued for twenty-eight (28) days from the originally scheduled court date. If the original date falls on a weekend, then it shall be continued until the following business day. Notices of rescheduled court dates will be sent by the clerk. Discovery will also continue as scheduled.
Emergency Hearings and Orders of Protection will be heard and conducted either in-person or by video/telephone conference.
Emergency motions will proceed and be heard by the on-call judge. Parties may email agreed orders to the assigned judge’s secretary for entry. The judge may modify the agreed order at his/her discretion. All Domestic Relations Division cases will be heard in courtrooms 3003 and 3009.
Pre-trial conferences will proceed if both parties are represented by counsel and with the submission of a joint stipulation for pre-trial which shall include three (3) suggested pre-trial dates for Judge’s consideration. Once a pretrial date is set by the Judge, the parties may submit their respective memorandums in accordance with local rule. Pre-trial to be conducted either via conference call or video conferencing. The pretrial will proceed without parties’ attendance.
Prove-ups have been temporarily accommodated to proceed as long as a fully executed Judgment, Marital Settlement Agreement, Parenting Allocation Judgment and Parenting Plan (if applicable) and a Certificate of Dissolution (half sheet) are submitted to the Judge for review and subject to entry at the court’s discretion.
Emergency pleadings, orders of protection, and temporary restraining orders will continue to be heard by the Court. All other matters in the Family Division will be continued and rescheduled.
All pleadings may continue to be filed electronically. Matters determined by the Court to be an emergency and plenary Orders of Protection will continue to be heard in-person, by telephone or by video conference, if possible. All other matters shall be rescheduled, unless the presiding judge in the case wishes to conduct such hearing by telephone or video. The court clerks will notify counsel of the rescheduled date for filed pleadings.
DeKalb County & Kendall County
Emergency pleadings, orders of protection, temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunction matters will continue to be heard.
Final Thoughts Please remember to stay informed to protect yourself and your family as restrictions and protocols in Illinois courts can change by the day.
It is crucial that everyone follow previously entered Parenting Plans or other agreements and court orders. There are, of course, exceptions to that and requires common sense. As Judge Dickler admonished, think solely about the best interest of your children and ensure they are not unnecessarily placed at risk.
Now is the time to have more, and more effective communication with your co-parent and to remember that flexibility is crucial to ensure your children’s best interests. With the added benefit of FaceTime, parents should ensure that both parents have frequent contact with their children even if they are not able to be together physically.
I remain steady at the wheel and fully focused on serving my clients. I am used to performing under pressure and difficult circumstances. I will continue to do so during these challenging times. All negotiations, mediations, and court are being handled via Zoom, phone or whatever method works for the judiciary and our clients. There is nothing we can’t help you figure out. I will continue to closely monitor new administrative general orders and procedures. Please feel free to reach out to me with any concerns or questions at email@example.com or 312-953-5114.