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Navigating family law during COVID-19

published in McAfee & Taft LINC Alert | March 23, 2020

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has issued two emergency orders during the current pandemic crisis, the second of which was issued on March 23, 2020, and is directed at family law cases.

The Second Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster applies to visitation and parenting time schedules for minor children, whether in divorce, separation, paternity or guardianship actions.  Specifically, custody and visitation time based on school scheduling shall not be affected by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The original school schedule shall control in determining visitation, parenting time or physical custody. In addition, custody or visitation orders may be modified by written agreement if allowed by the assigned judge, but will not be enforced unless filed. Courts also are allowed to modify orders and should use remote access for modification hearings, if possible.

Previously, on March 16, 2020, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued its First Emergency Joint Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster. That order had the effect of cancelling all jury trials and extending by 30 days all deadlines and procedures in all cases, including family law matters. Any family law deadline or procedure scheduled between March 16 and April 16 is moved out at least 30 days. This would include hearings, court conferences, answer dates, motion or discovery response dates, nonjury trials, and other scheduled matters.

Certain matters are still being handled by the courts, including emergency family law matters. The Oklahoma Supreme Court directed that emergency matters, arraignments, bond hearings and required proceedings of any kind are left to the discretion of the assigned judge. Consequently, for the time being, emergency protective orders, powers of attorney, guardianships, and other urgent matters may still be handled at the discretion of the assigned judge.

Access to the courts continues to evolve as courthouses partially close or close for a period of time. Technology has come to the aid of many, and matters are being allowed by emailed or telephoned requests for relief.  Matters can be heard via telephone or video conference with the assigned judge, with witness testimony allowed by affidavit. Some courts have published email or telephone contacts for emergent matters, and are receiving limited filings in person or by mail or electronic filing. The procedures for access vary by county.

McAfee & Taft’s Family Law Group attorneys remain in contact with the courts, and will provide updated information when we have it. By relying on the tools of technology, we will navigate together this difficult time period, and we stand by to help wherever we can.