COVID-19: A Legal Perspective
Without a doubt COVID-19 has invaded our lives in many ways that seemed unimaginable a week or two ago. Shopping is panic and stockpile driven. The kids are out of school and parents are now teachers, in addition to their employment. Parents are stressed about the prospect of losing employment and income. We are facing realities we have never experienced or anticipated. The legal world is no different. COVID-19 has invaded our legal system. There are currently very few exceptions that allow anyone to appear, in person, at legal proceedings. It requires a true emergency situation. A true legal emergency means someone is in danger, so exceptions are made for child abuse and neglect proceedings, emergency custody situations involving dangerous circumstances, a defendant’s right to arraignment and bail. Most of these hearings are being held by video or teleconference right now. Most cases do not involve the necessary level of emergency to be heard. That means you aren’t going to court for your traffic tickets and your divorce or custody case just got put on a sort of hold. Cases set for full trials are currently being rescheduled. This is resulting in significant delays. It means your family situation remains in limbo if you are waiting on the Court to resolve the matter by trial. It also means, sadly, that a number of parents are using this crisis as a way to deny contact to the other parent. There may be certain situations where that is medically necessary, but it should not be used as an excuse to keep children and parents apart. The number of messages and calls law offices are getting is incredible. In general, provided there is no extenuating medical reason, my advice to clients is to continue their normal practice. However, if anyone in the home has been experiencing a fever in the last 48 hours or traveled in the last two weeks it could be precautionary. That means parents should already be discussing how the time with the child will be made up once this situation returns to normal. This virus crisis is unsettling for our children, also. They are aware things are not normal and feel your stress and worry. Let’s try to keep things as “normal” as possible, and let them know both parents are here to support them through a crisis. Technology means FaceTime and Skype are valuable tools to keep in touch. Let them SEE the other parent is ok and let the other parent SEE that the child is ok. Do not amplify an already stressful situation by being petty. Your children NEED and DESERVE better. We are all navigating uncharted territory in the practice of law, so please be patient with your attorneys. While under current orders in Missouri our law practices are “open,” we have to limit contact with clients and practice social distancing. We are all working feverishly on resetting matters that have been postponed. Many are also implementing measures to allow staff to work remotely and to have client meetings by video or teleconference when possible. Right now we do not know how long this “quarantine” and “social distancing” will last. We must all do what we can to help flatten the curve. Your legal matters have not stopped over the virus, and your attorneys commitment to advocating on your behalf has not stopped, it is just evolving to accommodate COVID-19. Your attorneys want to be available to clients as circumstances and your case are evolving and changing. Communications with other attorneys and pleadings to the Court have not stopped, so there is still much work to do. We should be grateful that technology will allow many things to continue in our lives and businesses. I am sure the coming week will bring new news, new policies and new changes as we navigate COVID-19, but rest assured WE CAN and WE WILL OVERCOME! Be kind, be patient, be safe and HELP FLATTEN THE CURVE!
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