By Joseph R. Schmitz of Schmitz Law, P.C. posted in family law on Monday, March 23, 2020.

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken. It’s true. If put under enough pressure, a 2×4 wood stud will snap. A bungee cord on the other hand can withstand substantial forces, almost always springing back to normal. If you can learn to be as flexible as Gumby, there’s not much in life that will shake you.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we need to be flexible. We will need to extend more grace than we might have imagined before. We may need to hold our thoughts in, as it seems that everyone else around is becoming even less filtered – no need to try and be the loudest in the room – it’ll just makes matters worse. We will need to offer assistance more frequently. We will need to knit together as a community in ways we’ve forgotten. We will need to become ok with this momentary interruption in our easy lives. Yes, I said “easy,” as I’ve traveled to 2nd and 3rd world countries, observing just how hard life can really be, which has enabled me to keep a healthy perspective on just how easy our lives are in the U.S. Life is a journey, and nothing is ever certain. Start stretching now and improving your flexibility – you’re going to need it!

With that all be said, I’d like to address in a few legal areas how these uncertain times are intersecting with the legal world, particularly here in North Carolina. The scope of this discussion certainly goes beyond what I intend to cover here, and lawyers throughout North Carolina are diligently working to remain available for consultation regarding whatever issue you might be facing.

Child Custody. I’ll start with child custody issues. I’ve spoken with and heard from multiple family law attorneys who are receiving phone calls with complaints that one parent is not returning the children to the other parent, in spite of court orders or custody agreements. The common theme is that one parent might not protect the children from the threat of COVID-19 to the same level the other parent might. With more extreme situations aside, and though this hasn’t yet been tested, as the courts are conducting business on a very limited basis, the common consensus amongst family law attorneys is that if a parent refuses to comply with a court order under these circumstances, the presiding judge at a contempt hearing will be less tolerant of any such nonsense. COVID-19 is not an automatic pass for willfully violating court orders.

There are certainly situations where you might want to have an honest, civil conversation with the other parent about what is best for your children. Be careful in how you approach the conversation – making demands and accusations will only put the other party on the defensive. Asking questions is often a safe way to start the conversation. For instance, if the other parent is a healthcare worker, then perhaps you say something like: “What would you think about the kids staying with me for the time-being, just until we get a better grip on everything, but if any time you want to resume our regular schedule, then just let me know? We’ll do Facetime or Skype as much as you want.” Don’t make threats and assume that anything you write in a text message or say on the phone could later be presented to a judge.

If you have true legitimate concerns about the safety of your children, call an attorney and get some sound legal advice.

Civil Cases. If you are a party to a civil lawsuit in North Carolina, then you should know that N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered an Order on March 19th, that extends a number of deadlines falling on or after March 16th to now be due before the close of business on April 17th. A complete copy of this Order is here. Order Not sure how this affects you, consult with an attorney. If you have an attorney, it’s ok to make sure that he or she is aware of this Order.

Criminal Cases. Steps are being taken to hasten efforts to resolving cases, particular those where individuals are being detained on relatively minor charges. The State does not want individuals to potentially serve more time with a pending charge than they might otherwise receive as a part of their sentence if they plead or are found guilty. Bonds are being reduced or unsecured.

Domestic Violence Cases. If you are the victim of domestic violence, you can still seek a 50B Domestic Violence Restraining Order. The following only applies In Forsyth County, North Carolina (Winston-Salem, Clemmons, Kernersville, and surrounding communities). Family Services/Safe on Seven remains open and available to provide assistance. If you need emergency assistance, call 911, but if you are in safe place, you can call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line at 336-723-8125 or the Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 336-722-4457.

Conclusion. This is all just barely the tip of the iceberg. Many lawyers are offering telephonic or video-conferencing consultations, including Schmitz Law, PC. If you think you might need the advice of an attorney, do not hesitate scheduling a consultation. Depending on what you need legal advice for, the attorney may charge a consultation fee, typically in the range of $100 to $350, but the advice you receive can often be the difference between finally being able to sleep at night (your circumstances might not be as bad as you imagine) and making a very costly mistake, far exceeding the cost of the consultation. If you would like to schedule a consultation with Schmitz Law, our lines remain open and you can call us at 336-714-2380.

Be wise, be safe, and be flexible!

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