In order to protect the health of our employees, clients and the public, NOELKE MAPLES ST. LEGER BRYANT, LLP is adhering to the revised CDC and Austin Public Health recommendations concerning the COVID-19 virus and masking. To that end, we are open for business, but working remotely from home. You may continue to reach us in the usual manner, by calling at 512-480-9777, where your call will still be answered by our receptionist and transferred to our usual extensions. Of course, you can also reach any of us by email at our usual email addresses.
Although local courts are closed for non-emergent in-person hearings, we are still able to submit agreements and uncontested orders to the courts. We will continue to work with the local courts as they explore methods for handling hearings on contested matters remotely.
Keith Maples, Andi St. Leger, and Sam Colletti are still available for mediations. They are equipped to conduct mediations and arbitrations via Zoom video conference, and our system is compliant with HIPAA requirements. Please contact Keith Maples, Andi St. Leger or Sam Colletti if you need more information about how the system works. If you wish to schedule mediation, contact Emil Calhoun at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will assist in getting the mediation scheduled and providing instruction for the Zoom conference as needed.
Are attorneys still working despite the Shelter in Place Orders?
Yes. Our attorneys, paralegals and support staff are still working full time at 100% capacity to continue providing regular services to our existing and new clients… we are just doing it all through phone calls and Zoom conferences instead of in person. See questions re: Hearings and Trials below.
Can I still file for divorce?
Yes. Filing a Petition for Divorce is done electronically. It can be done simply as it always has. We can hire a process server to hand deliver the Petition for Divorce to your spouse if needed or email it to your spouse with a Waiver that has them acknowledge that they received it instead of being formally served.
Is there a benefit to filing my divorce petition now, rather than waiting until the Shelter in Place Orders have been lifted?
Yes. By filing for divorce now, you start the clock on the 60-day waiting period that must pass before you can finalize your divorce. While many divorces take longer than 60 days to complete if the spouses are not in agreement with the terms, divorces can be finalized on the 61st day after filing the Petition if the spouses have agreed on terms and signed their final divorce decree.
Do my spouse and I have to continue “Sheltering in Place” at the same residence while the Shelter in Place Orders are in effect?
No. Upon filing a Petition for Divorce, it is common for one spouse to move out of the marital residence. Judges usually order one person to move out to provide each person space and privacy during the divorce process. If an agreement cannot be reached regarding which spouse should move out of the marital residence, it is likely a Judge would allow a short videoconference hearing on Temporary Orders to decide which spouse should move out, and the temporary payment of support and expenses should be paid while the divorce is pending. However, this is not technically an emergency and is not necessarily as straight forward a request as the Judges would like to see. Whether or not a hearing will take place is a decision that each court is making on a case by case basis. If there is family violence involved, then it becomes an emergency matter which would receive priority and be heard via videoconference while the Shelter in Place Orders are in effect.
Can I file a lawsuit regarding possession and access of a child despite the Stay at Home Orders?
Yes. We file Petitions electronically with the Court to establish relationships and modify relationships between parents and children.
Can I modify my child support if I have lost my job due to COVID-19 layoffs?
You can certainly file a Motion to Modify Child Support and have it served on the other party. By doing so, you preserve the right to request that your child support be modified retroactively to the date that the other party was served with the lawsuit. Some judges are holding temporary orders hearings via videoconference on Motions to Modify. Even if a hearing cannot be held right away to modify the support, the suit should be filed to preserve the right to retroactively modify the support when a hearing is able to take place.
My ex has stopped paying child support claiming she/he was laid off due to COVID-19. Can I file a Motion for Enforcement to get him/her to start paying again?
Yes, but… You can file your Motion and have your ex served. However, it is unclear whether this case would be set for a videoconference hearing while the Stay at Home Orders are in place. The Judges are hearing, through videoconference, only limited matters and cases that don’t require multiple witnesses and a lot of documentary evidence. Decisions about what hearings will take place are being made on a case by case basis by each court. While non-payment of child support does impose a great hardship on the parent receiving support, it is not an emergency and does require important documentary evidence and witness testimony.
Can I get a family violence protective order while the Shelter in Place Order is in effect?
Yes. If you are needing to talk to a lawyer about abuse by someone in your family or household, call a lawyer while you are out of the house “at the grocery store,” or email us from a new email account that you set up for this purpose to be sure you have privacy. Family violence protective orders are an emergency matter that will be heard either in person or via videoconference, or a combination of the two.
How do my spouse and I divide the stimulus check(s) we received from the government?
If you are married and do not have a pre or post-marital agreement regarding your income, then all income received by either spouse is community money, meaning it belongs to both spouses. At the same time, the debts you have as a married couple are community debts. As long as the check is being used to pay community debts, there is no reason to argue about the money. Splitting the money equally is an acceptable way to handle the money.
Can I withhold the children if my ex isn’t following social distancing and Shelter in Place orders?
No. You cannot withhold children in violation of a current Possession Order. You need to file a Petition to Modify Possession and have an evidentiary hearing before a Judge. It is possible that a Judge may allow a short videoconference hearing on this issue while the Courts are closed.
If my ex is working in the healthcare field, can I temporarily change placement of my kids to better protect them from Covid-19 exposure?
By agreement, yes. Without the agreement of the other parent, you cannot withhold children in violation of a current Possession Order. You need to file a Petition to Modify Possession and have an evidentiary hearing before a Judge. It is possible that a Judge may allow a short videoconference hearing on this issue while the Courts are closed.
Where can I find copies of my orders regarding possession and access during this time?
Your possession order is filed with the District Clerk in the County where you were divorced, or if you were not married to the other parent of your child, in the County where the child was living at the time the Order was entered. Each clerk has their own procedure for obtaining copies of orders at this point and you should either contact us for help or the clerk in the county where the order was entered.
If I just recently got divorced, where will my stimulus check go or be deposited?
You should go to the IRS website and access the “Get my Payment” feature. You can provide the IRS with bank account information or update your address there.
Has Covid-19 changed the divorce process in any way?
Yes. The courthouses are essentially closed and are only holding hearings via videoconference (Zoom or Microsoft Teams) for emergency matters and to resolve issues that are limited in scope and do not require multiple witnesses or documentary evidence.
Will the pandemic make my divorce case go slower?
It depends. If you and your spouse are doing things amicably and able to reach an agreement on all terms, your case will not be impacted by the pandemic. A divorce can be conducted from start to finish during the pandemic in the same manner if it is not contested and, therefore, does not require a hearing or trial before the Court. If you can’t agree on a couple of issues and need to have those limited issues ruled on by a Judge, you may be able to have a short videoconference hearing on limited issues. If you can’t agree on anything and need a complete evidentiary hearing with witnesses and documentary evidence, you will have to wait until the Courts fully re-open. At this time, the Courts in Travis County are essentially closed for in-person hearings and trials through May 8 for non-jury trials and August 14 for jury trials with possible extensions of those closures; the Courts in Williamson County are essentially closed for in-person hearings and trials until further order for non-jury trials and until June 30 for jury trials, and the Courts in Hays County are operating under similar orders for the foreseeable future.
If my court date for my final trial is scheduled for a date when the Shelter in Place Order is still in effect, will my trial be postponed?
Yes. If your hearing or trial is set between now and May 8, it needs to be rescheduled to a later date. If your jury trial is set between now and August 14, it needs to be rescheduled to a later date.
How long is the courthouse closed?
At this time, the Courts in Travis County are essentially closed for in-person hearings and trials through June 26 for non-jury trials and August 14 for jury trials with possible extensions of those closures; the Courts in Williamson County are essentially closed for in-person hearings and trials until further order for non-jury trials and until June 30 for jury trials, and the Courts in Hays County are operating under similar orders for the foreseeable future.
If the courthouse is closed, what issues will the Judges hear remotely via videoconference?
Emergency matters, and some limited issues that can be presented with very little witness testimony or documentary evidence.
COVID-19 Blog Posts
Video Mediation–Better than Expected!
May 4, 2020 | By Sam D. Colletti
I’ll admit it — I was skeptical about video mediations. I have always believed in the magic of having everyone in the same building at the same time. I’m here to tell you I was wrong. Having everyone confined in…Read More
See All Posts on COVID-19
COVID-19 Update from NMSB
April 22, 2020 | By Sam D. Colletti
How has this situation affected divorce and custody proceedings? Many of our clients, very understandably, are concerned and confused about the effects that the current pandemic situation is having on the legal system, and on Family and Divorce proceedings in…Read More