COVID-19 Helping Families Through Legal Conflict and Into a Positive Future

COVID-19: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Children

On April 3rd, the 4th Judicial Chief Judge, Hon. William Bain, issued an updated order regarding El Paso and Teller Court operations due to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In summary, the order is an extension of previous orders but does include some important changes as well. We are fielding questions every day from current and prospective clients about what this means for them. To assist our clients and the public, we have summarized key points during this unprecedented time where things are constantly changing and evolving.

Jurors with summons for trials between April 6, 2020 and April 17, 2020 in the 4th Judicial District should not report for jury duty.

(Please note this notice serves as a summary only, for the types of cases that KHM serves. For further guidance regarding criminal and other civil matters please review the applicable orders on the 4th Judicial District Court Website)

Colorado Supreme Court Restricts Court Operations Through May 15, 2020 by order of Chief Justice Coats

On March 16, 2020, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Colorado issued an original order suspending all but essential services of the courts. Like most orders since the beginning of the pandemic, and similar to the 4th Judicial District’s prior order, this order was extended on March 20, 2020, now expiring May 15, 2020.

This does not mean that the courts are closed. What it means is that only the most essential and emergency hearings will be held, and court staff reduced. Each judicial district is then tasked with executing their own orders.

4th Judicial District Extends Restrictions on Local Court Operations Through May 1, 2020

Pursuant to the order issued April 3, 2020, the El Paso and Teller County courthouses are closed to the public through May 1, 2020. However, this does not mean that access to the court is suspended. This simply means that all non-essential business is suspended or not occurring in person, and the courthouse is not open for regular public business such as paper filings, marriage ceremonies, and observation.

Paper filings are only being accepted for matters related to public safety. Those matters are defined as

  • Petitions for Temporary Civil Protection Orders and Permanent Protection Order Hearings;
  • Petitions for Temporary Emergency Risk Protection Orders and Hearings on the same;
  • Criminal Procedure Rule 5 Advisements;
  • Juvenile Detention and Advisement Hearings;
  • Dependency and Neglect Shelter Hearings;
  • Petitioner for Appointment of an Emergency Guardian and/or Special Conservator and associated Hearings;
  • Emergency Mental Health Filings and Proceedings;
  • Hearings on Motions to Restrict Parenting Time and Parental Abduction Prevention;
  • Other proceedings deemed necessary by the Chief Judge to prevent a substantial risk of imminent financial hardship or imminent risk to the health, safety, or welfare of any individual or members of the community.

Almost all regular family law matters scheduled before May 1, 2020, are either postponed, cancelled, or not taking place in person. These hearings include: Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, Dissolution of Marriage, Legal Separation, Paternity, Child Support Establishment, Modifications of Parenting Time/Child Support/Spousal Maintenance, Initial Status Conferences, Pre-Trial Conferences, and Temporary Orders.

The only domestic relations hearings regularly occurring as scheduled are Emergency Hearings to Restrict Parenting Time and Motions for Abduction Prevention Measures.

If you have a hearing scheduled on or before May 1, 2020, your attorney or you, if unrepresented, need to contact the division clerk to determine whether or not your hearing is cancelled, rescheduled, or will take place via alternative means such as telephonically or video conference.

The Court is maintaining regular operations for Civil Protection Order cases.

FAQS

  1. The Court is closed. Can I still file for divorce or child custody? For years, attorneys in domestic relation cases have had the ability to file all cases electronically. Recently, the Court offered pro se litigants the ability to do the same.
  2. I lost my job, can I still file for modification of child support or spousal maintenance? Motions can be filed electronically, and signatures can occur electronically. Also, Colorado Secretary of State just passed Temporary Regulations allowing for remote notarization services. Pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-122, modification occurs at the time of the hearing, but is retroactive to the 1st of the month following the motion being filed. However, remember the hearing is based upon the facts at the time of the hearing, so if it is a temporary issue, working things out with the other side, if possible, is your best option.
  3. My Hearing got cancelled. Now what? If you do not have a new date, your attorney or yourself, if you do not have an attorney, should contact the division for a new date or direction to file a new Notice to Set.
  4. How long is the system going to be backlogged? This is the million-dollar question, no one knows how long things will last on a modified schedule. It is the goal of the 4th Judicial District to handle cases via video conference or telephone when able, to reduce the backlog that the system will undoubtably suffer, however there will be a delay. The 4th Judicial District is a busy district, before pandemic delays, some division were setting cases into 2021. Often times, clients are disappointed in having to wait 4 months of more for a hearing date. This is out of anyone’s control and has to do with the volume. This is something that both attorneys and judges have little control over.
  5. I don’t want to wait months for resolution. What are my options? Settlement, Alternative Dispute Resolution, or Private Judge. Coronavirus does not prevent parties from being flexible, reaching compromises, and settling their cases. This is your best bet in the midst of a pandemic for the quickest resolution of your case. Although you cannot control the other side, you can control yours. We often times recommend that parties make a list of the things or issues that are more important to them, which are “wish list” items, and which they would be willing to negotiate or give up to get something on their most important list. It is helpful to have them predict, based upon their knowledge of the other party what their list may look like. Sometimes this structure helps shift the focus to compromise.

Parties in Colorado can agree to binding Arbitration in dissolution, custody, and modification matters. Arbitration usually occurs after Mediation and is where the parties select a private individual to issue a binding award to be submitted to the Court for approval and order. It is a useful tool for parties who want to avoid waiting for a court date.

There is also the option of hiring a private judge. This is generally a retired Judge who files certain paperwork to get the authority to act as a private judge. Although proceedings take place outside of the courthouse, the structure of hearings and pretrial matters are the same as trials.

Mediations in the 4th Judicial District

If you have a Mediation scheduled through the 4th Judicial District Office of Dispute Resolution, your attorney or you need to contact them, via telephone at (719) 452-5005, to either reschedule or schedule the mediation to occur via telephone or video conference.

If your Mediation is scheduled with a private mediator, most have video conference operations and are operating on schedule. However, good practice is to contact them and confirm your mediation date.

4th Judicial chief Judge Gives Direction Regarding Parenting Time During COVID-19

Also, contained in the April 3, 2020 order, Hon. Chief Justice Bain gave some guidance to families within our jurisdiction. In the order it affirmatively states:

All Parties are advised that all existing court orders, including parenting time and parenting exchange orders, are not suspended by the Stay-at-Home Order issued by Governor Jared Polis, and shall continue to be followed unless otherwise modified by the court or agreement of the parties.

This is the very same guidance that we sent to our own clients last week. Unless you have a court order stating to the contrary, you must follow the current parenting time orders.

KHM GUIDE FOR PARTIES APPEARING VIA VIDEO/TELEPHONIC FOR HEARINGS

Video Appearances. For video appearances, parties need to have internet, web camera, and microphone capabilities. If you do not….


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  • Experience

    The partners and attorneys at Knies, Helland & McPherson are seasoned litigators with decades of combined courtroom experience. We help clients transition into the next phase of their life. 

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