We are all aware of the rapidly changing social landscape due to the virus. Herring Law Group’s goal is to responsibly prepare and respond but without over-reacting. We are experienced, as our people and systems previously effectively and efficiently worked through the 2017-2018 Thomas Fire and Mudslide. We aim to achieve an appropriate balance in this instance, too.
As my friend, Judge Thomas Trent Lewis (ret.), recently put it: “As leaders, we have a solemn duty to lead by example. My hope and prayer for all of us are that we remain Calm Careful Considerate and Cautious.”
Of foremost importance, HLG remains committed to our clients, their families and their case. We presently see no changes to our workflow, handling of tasks and deadlines, client communications, or other day-to-day work.
Our main temporary change is that we will largely be working remotely for the near future. It is because we (1) are paperless and (2) previously invested in office technology that we were originally able to do this during the Thomas Fire and Mudslide. We are easily able to repeat the drill now. Details are:
- Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, HLG is now deploying a remote workforce. Our physical offices will not be regularly staffed (although I and other of our attorneys may still be working from them – they are quieter than at home!).
- Our regular hours and workdays will continue uninterrupted.
- All work will continue uninterrupted.
- Ruston and I were in court as late as March 11, but Court hearings are now being rescheduled as the various counties restrict their services. This is being handled on a county-by-county basis, with different courts approaching the situation in different ways and with different resulting hearing continuances. Courts are also now encouraging telephonic appearances where appropriate. This is not a new concept, and we sometimes “attend” in that manner anyway. We will consider the possibilities on a hearing-by-hearing basis.
- We have video and telephone conferencing available and will plan to utilize both more in the coming weeks. Erin and I had a “Zoom” conference with a new client just this morning, and it went great. Zoom has a local Santa Barbara footprint – we expect its stock to rise! Expect the present situation to expedite the profession’s adoption of this technology in the months and years to come.
- We are monitoring the courts’ updates and we will keep our clients appropriately notified.
A variety of leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis (Susan Myres, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (“AAML”), Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (“AFCC”), Annette Burns (AAML and Former President of AFCC), Yasmine Mehmet (AAML), Kim Bonuomo (AAML), Nancy Kellman (AAML), Dr. Leslie Drozd (AFCC), Dr. Robin Deutsch (AFCC), Jill Peña (Executive Director of AAML) and Peter Salem (Executive Director of AFCC)) just issued a helpful piece, Seven Guidelines for Parents Who are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the Covid19 Pandemic. These experts are our peers from groups in which HLG is substantially involved (AAML and AFCC). Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Drozd are experts with whom we are involved from time-to-time in our various custody and parenting cases. Their advice follows:
- Be Healthy
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
- Be Mindful
Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave the news 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.
- Be Compliant
Court Orders and Custody Agreements. As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions, there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school was still in session.
- Be Creative
At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums, and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.
- Be Transparent
Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly, both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
- Be Generous
Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take serious concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
- Be Understanding
There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.
As always, HLG remains committed to delivering exceptional legal services. We remain fully ready, willing and able to serve in this crisis, as we have previously done in others.