Somerville Office
Family Law

The Effect of COVID-19 on Family Law

Court Closures

On March 18, the Superior Court of New Jersey closed for in-person proceedings as a public health precaution in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 19, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ordered the suspension of all Civil Arbitration and Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (ESP) sessions until April 10, 2020.

These suspensions were initially scheduled to be lifted on April 13, but were extended by 30 days on March 27, and were further extended to April 26. The closures cover proceedings heard by New Jersey’s criminal, civil, family, tax, and municipal courts.

Specifically for family law matters, the following orders are in effect:

  • “…Rule 5:5-1(e) is relaxed and supplemented to permit the additional extension of discovery deadlines through April 26, 2020;
  • The time periods for dismissal of family cases for lack of prosecution will be tolled for the period from March 16 through April 26, 2020; and in addition, automated lack of prosecution dismissal processes for family matters will be suspended through April 26, 2020;
  • The provisions of the March 19, 2020 Order regarding Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel sessions are extended as follows: i. Matrimonial ESP session scheduled from March 16 to April 10, 2020 have been postponed, and Matrimonial ESP sessions scheduled from April 11 to April 26, 2020 will also be rescheduled;
  • Effective April 27, 2020, Matrimonial ESP sessions will resume, with participation in any session to be via video and/or telephone conference and initiated by an arbitrator or panelist. Designated court staff will resolve any scheduling issues and will provided assistance as necessary to facilitate the process. Any participant may apply to the court for extension of deadlines or rescheduling of sessions as may be required based on the circumstances of an individual case, including but not limited to barriers to participation by video or phone conferencing; and
  • The provisions of Rules 5:5-5 and 5:5-6 are relaxed and supplemented to: (i) permit the extension of ESP timeframes, (ii) to allow submissions to be sent directly to the panelists, (ii) to authorize these proceedings to be conducted in a location other than the courthouse, and (iv) to allow post-ESP events to proceeding without the simulateous entry of an [sic] court order…”

Rule 5:5-1 is a Court Rule governing discovery proceedings in family law cases. Rule 5:5-5 governs procedures concerning ESP matters, and Rule 5:5-6 regulates the proceedings of Mandatory Post-ESP Mediation or Mandatory Post-ESP Complementary Dispute Resolution Events.

Child Support Issues

In addition to public service, public health precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic have also had a significant impact on the operation of private businesses. As a result, many people have been furloughed or laid off as the country’s economy slows to a crawl. Such persons may have special access to unemployment benefits. Additionally, people may receive benefits per the stimulus package the U.S. Congress recently passed.

However, despite these benefits, many people will suffer a significant decrease in their income. Consequently, many people may not have sufficient financial resources to cover their pre-quarantine lifestyle and expenses—including child support obligations.

A person who cannot satisfy their child support duties may be subject to enforcement actions, including being held in contempt of court for nonpayment of child support. Contempt may involve monetary penalties and even jail time in some cases.

However, a person can modify an existing child support order if they can demonstrate that a substantial change in circumstances warrants changing the terms of the order. A substantial change in circumstances includes a reduction in income due to unforeseen circumstances.

Additionally, a person may not be held in contempt of court for failing to pay child support if they can show that they do not have the ability to do so. These issues heavily depend on specific facts and circumstances. Therefore, it is in your best interest to consult a family law attorney to better understanding the nature and extent of your legal options.

Consult Lane & Lane, LLC to Learn More

If you have concerns about your legal rights and options regarding a family law issue in light of the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak, you should contact Lane & Lane, LLC for legal advice. Despite the extreme social distancing precautions in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, we offer phone consultations to discuss your legal interests and available options.

Please call our office at (908) 259-6673 or contact us online to schedule a consultation today.

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