In Illinois, as in many other states, many of the courts have effectively “closed” the courtrooms to most matters until at least the middle of April due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Illinois State Mandate, which encourages sheltering at home and the temporary closing of all non-essential businesses. The courts, like most other businesses, are attempting to practice “social distancing” and have suspended many, but not all services.
As a result, many clients in divorce and other family law matters are at a loss as to how to handle their matters without judges available to make or enforce decisions. Here are some actions you can take to move your case forward.
Orders of Protection and Emergency Matters
First, if you circumstances involve an abusive spouse or a serious financial loss such as a spouse withdrawing all funds from marital bank accounts to the serious detriment of the other spouse, most courts remain open to handle motions related to such matters. Judges are available for rulings on emergency motions, restraining orders, and orders of protection involving such serious situations. You can still file these motions during the shutdown and receive a prompt ruling with the necessary protections.
If your matter does not involve such serious issues, then in most circumstances you will be unable to have a judge hear your matter until courts return to regular business. In the meantime, the options below can help you prepare your matter so that it can proceed efficiently when the Illinois Mandate is lifted.
Filing Court Documents
One option is to use this time to file your family law matter or any pertinent motions in your case. Illinois courts remain open for filing any legal documents, this includes filing a new divorce or family law case. You can also file any motions or other documents pertinent to the handling an existing case. Be aware that your corresponding court date will not occur until after courts resume regular business.
Assemble Financial Documents
Another option to move your matter forward while the Illinois Mandate is in place is to assemble and prepare all your financial documents. In most divorces matters and in cases where child support or maintenance will be set or changed, your spouse, your co-parent, opposing attorney and the judge will need information showing you current income, your assets, and your obligations or debts. This information is needed for calculation of support or maintenance and to determine the division of all of the money, assets, and debts accumulated during the marriage. Some of the documents typically needed are W-2 statements, paystubs, bank and credit card statements, mortgage statements, and retirement account statements. You can start assembling these documents and requesting those that you do not have from your different financial institutions. Ask your attorney, which documents you need.
Next, you can examine and discuss with your spouse the possibility of settling certain issues in your case. For instance, you can discuss agreeing on the parenting schedule regarding the children, the amount of child support to be paid, or how the marital property and debt should be divided. You do not need to reach an agreement on all of the issues you may have in your matter. However, if you can reach an agreement on at least some of the issues , you will be in a better position to have your matter fast-tracked to completion once the mandate is lifted. Further, most judges will allow you to enter agreed orders on those issues that have been settled. In circumstances where an agreement has been reached as to child support or maintenance, having an agreed order entered by the Court may be especially important as payments on support or maintenance can then start sooner rather than later.
Participate in Mediation
For those issues where an agreement cannot be reached, you can use this time to participate in mediation. Although you may not be able to meet with a mediator in person, due to the Illinois Mandate, you and your spouse may have the option to meet with a mediator and mediate by phone or video conference. Mediation may be able to help you use this time to settle issues that you may have previously thought could only be resolved by a judge. You attorney should be able to provide you with a recommendation for a mediator.
Communicate with Attorney
You can take time to communicate with your attorney. Many spouses do not usually reach out to their attorney regularly regarding their matter until a problem or question arises that may require court attention. Given that neither party can bring most matters before the courts right now, you can take the time to communicate with your attorney and determine the information your attorney will need to settle the case or prepare it for trial. Further, if you are able to settle many of your issues with your spouse, you can advise your attorney of the terms of settlement. This will allow your attorney to prepare the settlement documents for submission when courts resume.
If you do not have an attorney and are unsure if you case requires one, now is a good time to discuss your case with an attorney. Many attorneys are willing to discuss over the phone the basics of your case as well as the cost of representation.
These suggestions can help you more quickly move your divorce or family law matter to a resolution while saving you time and money. You do not need to wait until courts resume their regular schedules in order make progress in your case.
If you have any questions regarding these or other family law issues, please feel free to contact me at 630.434.0551 or at email@example.com.