Posted and up-to-date on 10/1/2020
Parents who share custody of children are wondering what social distancing and sheltering in place mean for their family law orders. People who now have family law or protection from abuse hearings are also trying to navigate a more complicated court system than usual. Here are some common questions and answers about co-parenting, family law, and protection from abuse cases during the pandemic.
What will happen with my pending family court case?
All family court cases are currently suspended until at least May 1st. That means any existing interim or final order stays in place until you can return to court. If you have a court date scheduled before May 1st, it will be re-scheduled to a later time. You should get a new scheduling notice at some point after May 1st rescheduling your court date. The court is providing regular updates on court closings and hours.
I have a court order that says my kids spend time with me and the other parent. Should we follow it?
People with orders from a divorce or parental rights case should do their best to follow those orders so long as it is safe and possible to do so. Talk to your children’s doctor about your situation if you have health concerns. Communicate with the other parent about your concerns. If visits can’t happen, try to find other ways for kids to stay in touch with the other parent, like video chats. Make sure you keep a record of what happened and when in case you need to prove what was happening later in court.
Here is a good resource from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts for parents trying to figure out how to manage existing parental rights orders during the pandemic.
Can I file a motion to change or enforce my court order?
Yes, you can. The courts are processing family law cases now, and you can file like you would have pre-COVID.
Can I still bring my children to and from visits with the other parent, even though there is a Stay Healthy at Home Executive Order?
Yes. On March 31, 2020, Governor Mills issued a series of mandates, including a “Stay Healthy at Home” directive. This requires people in Maine to stay in their homes at all times, unless for an essential job or for an essential personal reason. Some of the essential personal reasons include buying food and medication. You can find the full list of these essential personal activities here. Under this directive you could transport your children to visits with their other parent under two of the listed essential personal activities.
- You are allowed to provide care, including transportation, of yourself or a family member for essential health and safety activities.
- You are also allowed to leave your home for travel required by a law enforcement officer or court order.
I recently separated from my child’s other parent. Who gets the stimulus check for the child?
The money will be deposited into the bank account where you received your 2019 tax refund. If you did not receive a tax refund in 2019, it will be deposited into the bank account where you received your 2018 tax refund.
- If you and your ex-partner filed jointly, that money will go into whatever bank account you listed with the IRS.
- If you filed separately, whoever had claimed the child on the tax return will receive the child stimulus benefit.
- If neither parent has ever claimed the child for tax purposes, the primary residential parent will have the ability to file a 2019 return and obtain child tax benefits, including the stimulus check.
Will I still get my stimulus check if I am behind on child support payments?
Your stimulus check will be reduced by the amount of back child support that you owe.
Is my court date in person or by video/telephone?
- All family court proceedings will be held by zoom or telephone including: case management conferences, status conferences, mediations, and hearings.
- Protection from Abuse, Protection from Harassment, and Motions for Contempt in your family matter case will be held in person.
I want my court date to be in person. What do I do?
- You must write a letter to the court telling the Judge that there are special reasons as to why your case should be in person.
- You must put your email address and the other side’s email address on the paper (if you know it).
- You must also send a copy of your letter to the other side at least 14 days before your court date.
- If you disagree with a request by the other side for an in-person hearing then you have 7 days to let the court know.
- If the Judge believes the person requesting the in-person hearing has shown “good cause” the request will likely be granted.
- The Judge will consider the health and safety of the court staff, parties, and witnesses; the ability of everyone to participate remotely; courtroom space, technology assistance, and clerical assistance.
- Unless there are extraordinary reasons, the court will not allow some people to appear in person and others to appear by video/telephone.
I would like my Protection from Abuse or Protection from Harassment case to be by video or telephone. What do I do?
- Write a letter to the Judge telling the Judge why you do not want to come to court in person.
- You must write this letter and give it to the court at least 10 days before your court date.
- Write your email address on the letter.
- Write the other party’s email address on the letter (if you know it)
- Send a copy of your letter to the other side.
- The other side has a chance to respond to you within 5 days.
- If the Judge believes you have shown “good cause” your request will likely be granted.
- The Judge will consider the health and safety of the court staff, parties, and witnesses; the ability everyone to participate remotely; courtroom space, technology assistance, and clerical assistance.
- Unless there are extraordinary reasons, the court will not allow some parties to appear in person and others to appear by video/telephone.
I do not want to give my email address to the Defendant in my Protection from Abuse or Protection from Harassment case. What can I do?
- If you believe health, safety, or liberty of you or a minor child would be jeopardized by giving your email address out, you should give your email address to the court and not to the Defendant.
- You can then ask the court clerk for an Affidavit for Confidential Address (PA-015) to fill out to request that your email address be sealed by the court according to Maine law.
I have a family matter case that should be held remotely but the Judge scheduled it in person instead. Why did this happen?
A trial court may, in its discretion, order that any court proceeding be held in person.
My court date is by zoom or telephone. What do I do?
- If your case is by telephone, the court will mail you a phone number and passcode before your court date.
- If your case is by zoom or google meets, the court will email you log in information and directions before your court date.
I have evidence I want the Judge to see. How do I show it to them if I am on the telephone/video?
- At least 7 days before your hearing (not protection from abuse or protection from harassment hearings) you must mark your evidence (number it 1, 2, 3, 4….) and write (Plaintiff or Defendant) on it, depending on which one you are in the case.
- Once you have marked your evidence you must provide a copy of it to the other side and to the court.
- In Protection from Abuse and Protection from Harassment cases you must give a copy of your exhibits to the other side 2 days before your court date.
I don’t know how to do this and don’t have a lawyer. Will the Judge cut me some slack?
You will be held to the same standard as an attorney. The court will not give you any special treatment because you do not have an attorney. All court rules of procedure and process, including the rules of evidence, apply during remote hearings and conferences.
Do I have to dress up and behave the way I would in the court room if I’m on the telephone or video?
Yes, you need to behave and act as if you would if you were in person in the court room.
I have witnesses I want to testify. What do they need to do?
Each witness must be alone in a quiet room while testifying, may not use a virtual background, and MUST turn off all electronic devices except for the video/phone they are using to speak to the court.
Can I email documents to the court instead of bringing them in person?
The only document you can email to the court clerk are proposed orders and that is if the Judge asks for this. Otherwise, you must bring them in person.