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How Long Will Coronavirus Affect Your Family Law Case? | Frequently Asked Questions

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
May 14, 2020

In this article, we answer some common questions about how the coronavirus is affecting family law cases in Iowa and Illinois and what the next 30 days look like for the judicial system.

As the Novel Coronavirus continues to ravage portions of the United States and the rest of the world, the physical limitations of our current judicial system processes become more apparent and the ripple effect that this virus has on family law cases widens. 

Many people have asked about changes to alimony and child support due to unemployment from Covid-19, shared custody modifications to reduce the spread of infection, when the courts will reopen, and what constitutes an emergency case?

Common Questions

When Will the Courts Reopen For Normal Business In Illinois and Iowa?

As of writing this, the courts have been closed for everything other than cases deemed an immediate emergency for a month or more in many states, including Illinois or Iowa. Iowa is possibly set to reopen some in-person judicial activities on May 4th, but have also moved to manage more cases online or expedite certain cases that are deemed routine. Illinois looks to reopen the courts, albeit in a “phased” process beginning sometime in the second half of May. Both states have been utilizing more online avenues for any cases that are not deemed an emergency such as custody cases involving physical harm or domestic abuse cases.

Are There More Options to Reduce or Suspend My Alimony Payments?

Alimony payments can be modified for many reasons, most obviously if one parent has a change in income or the other parent suddenly needs more or less support. The law on alimony payments in Iowa or Illinois hasn’t changed fundamentally and you’re still required to follow your court-ordered obligations, but if the massive economic fallout from Covid-19 has affected your financial situation you should reach out to your family law attorney and petition to have your alimony payments modified. Also, the argument that “there’s nothing to spend money on right now because everything is shut down, so I shouldn’t have to pay as much in alimony or child support” is not a valid one.

What Are Some Specific Scenarios That Would Warrant a Change in Alimony?

Were you laid off or furloughed by your place of employment? Has economic fallout from Covid-19 lead to a substantial decrease in your income earning capacity? Did your employer reduce your salary? Has your business experienced a substantial decrease in income due to the lock-down? If you answered yes to any of these questions it may be appropriate to ask the court to reduce or suspend your alimony payments temporarily. Similarly, if you are the recipient of alimony and any of the above circumstances apply to you, it may be well worth having a discussion with your attorney or a court representative about modifying your alimony payments.

Can I Ask For an Increase or Reduction in Child Support?

There are a number of factors that go into calculating child support payments. Each parent’s income, the cost of living, parenting time, the number of children, ongoing medical issues, etc, are all part of determining monthly child support payments; just as alimony can be modified, so too can child support if one of these factors changes. The most common reason for modifying child support payments is a change in income by one or more parents. With more than 20 million people in the United States filing for unemployment, many family law offices are seeing a considerable uptick in the number of alimony and child support modification requests. However, it’s important to note that both parent’s income will be taken into account, so if both parents have experienced a change in income petitioning for modification may not be in the best interest of the original party.

Can I Petition To Change My Child Custody Order Because of Covid-19 Concerns?

Questions about parenting time and child custody orders started floating in shortly after rumors of school closures began back in early March. Many parents wondered how kids being home from school and the closing of daycare would affect parenting time. For more information on this check out our article on Illinois Shelter-In-Place and Child Custody Agreements. Generally, parents should continue to follow their existing custody orders unless they feel the other parent is failing to follow shelter-in-place or quarantine guidelines and putting the child at unnecessary risk of infection.

What Do The Courts View As An Emergency?

Guidelines for what constitutes an emergency case are somewhat murky in both Illinois and Iowa, but generally, any case involving the physical safety of one or more individuals, including restraining orders, orders to vacate, temporary custody orders, etc, will be held via phone, video, or if absolutely necessary in person as determined by the court. For all other matters, the court will consider emergencies on a “case-by-case” basis, but if your income has been severely impacted by Covid-19 or you are seriously concerned about the health and safety of a child due to the other parent’s lax behavior in regards to Covid-19 don’t hesitate to reach out to your attorney.

Should I File Now or Wait Until Courts Reopen?

Even though courts are closed petitions can still be filed and logged. Once courts reopen each case will be heard in the order it was received. Some cases may still take precedent such as those involving the physical safety of another person, but generally, in order to avoid ending up at the bottom of the backlog, filing now is better than filing later.

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