Susan S. Lichterman is a partner at Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, PC, and leads the Family Law Group. She recently answered some of the most pressing questions for family law attorneys.
How is your office handling meetings?
As things change by minute, the alterations to my practice and the firm are changing by the minute as well. Last week, all attorneys and paralegals were encouraged to work from home. Many of us regularly work remotely and we all have laptops for this purpose. Our secretaries were initially assigned to in-person shifts so that we would have a few people in the office each day to handle filings and emergencies. We have spent the last week setting up as many staff members to work remotely as possible as we anticipated that a stay-in-place order was inevitable. As of last week, all large meetings and all in-person firm meetings were canceled followed quickly by the cancellation of all meetings. Now pursuant to the governor’s executive order, we are all working remotely. All meetings are either via phone or video conferencing.
Which clients are contacting you the most and what issues are they raising?
The clients I am hearing from the most are the individuals with minor children wanting to know if parenting time exchanges should proceed. The answer is generally yes pursuant to the governor’s executive order. Some clients are in a unique predicament as they are in the middle of their divorce but are still living with their soon to be ex-spouses. They are now ordered to stay in place together and do not want to be in the same house together for weeks on end.
How are courts adjusting their hearings and how will this impact your clients?
All my hearings for the foreseeable future have been canceled. As to pending cases, we are still able to work on discovery to a certain extent and settlement.
Also, most courts have e-file and are still entertaining “emergency” motions. The courts should be able to handle motions and certain hearings remotely. Motions can be argued remotely and many can be ruled on without oral argument. That’s not happening yet.
Clients are being impacted greatly. There are many financial and other issues that need to be addressed that are not considered emergencies and therefore are not being addressed. Some family law practitioners in Wayne, Oakland, and other counties have offered to help judges mediate motions.
Are there any unique issues pertaining to the practice of family law during this time?
In family law, the definition of emergency differs wildly. I am concerned that issues will arise that are not deemed emergency but that need immediate attention¾issues concerning children and finances. I am concerned that as people become quarantined, there will be many parenting time issues. I am concerned that as people stop going to work and paychecks stop, nonpayment of child support will increase. I am hopeful that the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan will rise to the occasion and work collaboratively to address such issues as they arise.
What is your best advice for family law attorneys now?
Pick your battles. Work collaboratively. Do not raise issues that can wait until things settle down. Similarly, do not ignore issues because you know that opposing counsel likely has no recourse with the courts essentially closed.