No one could imagine at the beginning of the year that a quickly spreading virus would be shuttering the world. But coronavirus has now dramatically changed how we live.
It’s a very stressful time and we all have questions about how to handle different scenarios in this new reality. Now, while I can’t answer every question related to coronavirus, there are some legal scenarios that I can help make clearer for you.
If you have a previously scheduled court appearance: You will need to contact the court clerk if you do not have an attorney representing you. If you have an attorney, your attorney can provide information related to your case. In all courts that remain open, the courts are limiting the number of people allowed to physically stay in the courtroom and can advise you when you arrive at the courthouse. They will tell you to stay in your car until they call your cell phone to come in, or alternatively, they will reset your court date when the virus risk has minimized to the general public.
If I would like to challenge a traffic violation: You will need to contact the number listed on your traffic violation and inform the clerk you are not guilty. You will still need to appear in court on the date specified on your ticket or they will find you guilty. If you retain an attorney, that attorney can take care of all appearances. A trial date will then be set. Since the infraction is not criminal, it is likely that they will reset a traffic violation to a date outside of the current isolation timeframe.
If I am in the middle of finalizing my divorce: Many courts are continuing to hold proceedings. However, many are postponing court. Contact your attorney or if you do not have one, contact the clerk of the chancery court (or circuit court if this is a family matter in the state of Tennessee) to find out the local rules. Generally, the courts that are still in session are asking that your attorney appear on your behalf (and that you remain outside in your car) or if you do not have an attorney, that you leave your cell phone number with the bailiff upon arrival and that you wait in your vehicle until your case is called. If both parties agree the risk is too great to proceed, your case may be continued if the court remains open.
If you are the custodial parent: Try to work with the non-custodial parent to ensure visitation with the child(ren) continues if it appears there is no health risk. It is a fearful time for our children, and they need both parents being supportive and active in their life. If both parties agree to stop visitation for the time being that may be the best practice for one particular family, but if one party is not agreeable to that you may end up in court trying that issue as an emergency situation. There is no mandated family law in place allowing visitation to stop. It is on a case-by-case basis when required to be addressed by a chancellor (family law judge).
No matter what happens, the law still exists. You cannot disobey the speed limit, traffic signs or abuse drugs or alcohol and get a free pass. The police are still enforcing our laws and ensuring the safety of our community.
We must remain responsible and adhere to local, state and national government directions in order to ensure the virus will eventually become somewhat contained.
At the same time, we need to do what we can to take care of ourselves and those around us. Here are a few tips that I’m trying to keep in mind:
Get some much-needed exercise. We must continue to take care of our health. Exercise will help curb stress and anxiety during these unprecedented times.
Stay strong and remain calm and in control. This is for your family and those who count on you. Now is the time to show solidarity with one another and teach your children and others by leading by example.
Check on your elderly neighbors. You can call them or talk to them through a window or door rather than risk potential exposure through face-to-face interaction.
Most importantly, stay home if you can and stay safe.