As of March 18, 2020, the state’s highest court has ordered all trial courts across Michigan to take immediate precautions to limit possible exposure to COVID-19, in compliance with the Executive Order 2020-21.
Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack says the Supreme Court is unanimously taking this unprecedented action to protect the public and court personnel by limiting activity, and that all courts across the state must comply with the safeguards.
What does this mean for court filings?
- Courts are to work with the county clerk’s office to ensure alternate means of filing if in-person filings are restricted by the new order. Filings may be made via U.S. and oftentimes email, fax, e-file. Check the website of the county.
- Deadlines for filing pleadings have been temporarily extended until the end of the Executive order; this does not restrict or limit a person’s ability to file any type of action at any time
What does this mean for court appearances?
Appearances in the courthouse (whether for filing or courtroom appearances) is limited to ten people, including staff. This means that there can not be more than 10 people in a room at one time. And at all times, social distancing must be maintained. Courts have been advised to limit in-person activity to essential functions (defined below) and should conduct other matters remotely using videoconferencing technology or other remote participations tools or to adjourn those matters until after April 3, 2020.
Some of the essential functions under the MSC mandate include:
- Arraignments for defendants held in custody (these can be done by mail through April 10)
- Requests for search warrants and personal protection orders
- Child protective hearings (Should be done over the phone if possible)
- Review and determination of requests for ex parte relief in domestic relations proceedings necessary for the safety and well-being of a litigant and/or children under MCR 3.207
- Friend of the court arraignments on bench warrants
- Other emergency motions in the discretion of the court
- Certain probate matters, including proceedings regarding involuntary mental health treatment, petitions for immediate funeral/burial arrangements, emergency petitions for adult protective services and guardianship and other emergency or ex -parte probate matters.
This list is not exhaustive. For a full list of essential court functions, visit Michigan Supreme Court Website. On 3/26/2020, the MSC issued a 25-page document on FAQ’s and General Guidance Regarding Emergency Court Response to COVID-19. You can access this document once on the MSC website.
The Protocol from county to county will vary
The MSC order gives the chief judge in every county the discretion to issue administrative orders regarding the essential functions of the trial court. These administrative orders will continue to change as the public health situation changes. Please check your local county’s website for the protocol on how that particular court is handling filings, hearings, adjournments and other matters.
How does this Impact my custody or parenting time order?
- All court orders for a child’s custody, parenting time and support are still in force. Only a new court order can change that. Parents should continue to follow their court order.
- IF future government decisions restrict travel, or if safety is an issue, parents should work together to keep the child’s access to both parents as close to the normal arrangement as possible
- Parents should cooperate with each other to share parental responsibilities in different ways as the situation requires. If parents are not able to agree between themselves on how to do this, their current court order continues to control what they should do.
- EO 2020-3 states that individuals may travel to transport a child pursuant to a custody agreement.
See MSC Statement Regarding Children and EO-2020-3.
Is the pandemic a reason to withhold parenting time?
- No. The MSC has made that clear in its March Statement (see above). Parents should assume that each of them is complying with CDC guidelines for safety. If you believe that your case is an exception to this rule, you must file an emergency motion with the court to change the parenting time order. Be prepared to present evidence of a tangible threat to your child’s health or safety, beyond the normal concern everyone is experiencing right now. You should contact an attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case.
- Consider negotiating a make-up parenting time schedule if you or the other parent is uncomfortable with the current schedule. Be fair. If one parent is willing to forgo parenting time to address the other parent’s fears or the child’s fears, offer daily Facetime, Zoom, or other electronic contact.
- Parents withholding parenting time without a court order may be held in contempt if the other parent files a motion to show cause or to enforce the parenting time order.
If you are a parent who’s parenting time has been denied, contact an attorney immediately to discuss the best enforcement or remedial measures for your situation
Take precautions to protect your family and others
While school closures and travel restrictions may cause some confusion over co-parenting and custody agreements, parents are urged to stay up to date about COVID-19 by getting accurate information through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.
In addition, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have released guidelines for divorced or separated parents who share custody of their children. The seven rules provide some practical advice and clarity for handling court orders and custody agreements.
If you have a pending case, or think you need to initiate a case or post judgment action, contact an attorney.
Learn more by reading this custody and parenting time FAQ sheet.