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Coronavirus and Family Law

It isn't too soon to be thinking about the potential impact of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) on family law issues. Perhaps certain authorities are correct and we have nothing to worry about or perhaps the experience of other countries is a guide to what is to come for us. In that case, to be responsible, we have some planning to do.

As you no doubt know, in response to outbreaks of the Coronavirus in their countries, the entire Japanese school system has shut down for the month as has Disneyland in Tokyo. France has closed the Louvre. Whole towns are quarantined in Italy. Other countries are treating this like a big deal. In America, businesses are cancelling non essential travel for their employees. Even Facebook has called off a big convention. As the CDC has told us, the Coronavirus hitting the United States is not a question of if, it is only a question of when.

This means that we should plan on what to do when it strikes close to home, or even home. For family law issues, this immediately raises issues with visitation. Suppose your children's school shuts down for a few weeks. What are you going to do? When it is time to exchange the children, will that exchange take place? Suppose someone in your ex's household has contracted the virus. Will you exchange then? Suppose someone in our household has. Suppose it is one of your children. If at all possible, now is the time to have that difficult conversation with your ex. Planning ahead makes for much better decisions and much less drama.

What about long distance domestic or international travel for visitation? What if the other parent lives in Washington State? What if they live in Italy? Summer is coming fast and right around the corner is Spring Break. Many children will be traveling to see their other parent for the break. What happens if there is an outbreak where your child lives and your child is supposed to travel to see you? It could be that summer slows the spread of the disease. That would be welcome. But Spring Break is in just a few weeks, when we will likely still be suffering from the shock of the speed of the spread of the virus in America. The issues of the safety and wisdom of travel will certainly come up. It is much better to start having a plan now, before you are forced to make a split-second decision.

It is likely that the Coronavirus will have an impact on both domestic and international visitation plans. Just the process of going through the airport and flying on a plane with re-circulated air will cause many parents to balk at the requirement that their child submit to that scenario. Start thinking about it now. You'll be glad you went to the trouble. Call us if you want some legal help in thinking it through.

The Manely Firm is shifting gears a bit in light of the possibility that our society could be significantly impacted by the disruption that contagion might bring. We are offering video conferencing to all clients and potential clients. There will be no need to leave the safety and comfort of home to venture out to get your family law questions answered.

We are promoting the concept of virtual hearings with our courts. It may not be necessary to suspend the people's business should the people be in a lock down situation. With modern technology, it is quite possible to hold hearings by video conference. We have been working with our colleagues in Europe who have had virtual hearings in family law cases for several years now. This process isn't novel to us.

While it is fortunate that it seems that children are largely spared the worst of this disease, we can't ignore those most vulnerable in our families: our parents, aunts and uncles and those most compromised. If everyone is in lock down, or if someone has been stricken by the virus in our homes, we won't be able to check in on our elderly or otherwise compromised relatives. We need to make plans now for how they will fare through what may come and how we will virtually check in on them.

Empty bravado aside, we don't know how this might actually play out. We just don't know. To pretend that we do is foolish and worse. We owe it to our children and our families to spend some time thinking through this now, when no one is panicking. We owe it to them to be boy scouts and be prepared.

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