I have court in my VA custody and visitation case and I feel sick! What should I do?

Posted on Jan 5, 2022 by Katie Carter

If you’re sick of hearing about COVID-19 and the global pandemic, you’re in the wrong place. (Though, honestly, I agree with you!) In the last two years, we’ve definitely been through some stuff that I for one never expected to see in my lifetime. It never even occurred to me that we’d have to contend with a literal plague.

But, here we are. Two years later, which is so surreal to me because when the world first shut down in March of 2022 and they said a year and a half before we were back to ‘normal’, and I thought they were completely crazy. A conservative estimate, I thought, confidently. That’s insane; there’s no way the world can bear disruption for that long.

And here I am, working from home. Still. Don’t get me wrong; I love it. Really love it. In a lot of ways, working from home has transformed my life and my sense of work/life balance, which is super important to me at this stage of life with two really young kiddos at home. But, I digress.

There are all sorts of issues related to COVID-19 that impact the practice of family law in Virginia. Though, in many ways, we don’t really know how all of the legal issues will pan out because it’s been so hard to get into court (the earlier judicial emergency that caused the courts to be closed is still causing tremendous backups in having cases heard, and we just don’t have strong judicial precedent on many points), there are a lot of issues that keep coming up.

Though, like many other things, court cases are heard more often via WebEx or other digital means, a lot of courthouses are operating more or less as usual – though with some precautions in place. Obviously, you’re not supposed to attend court if you have a fever or any other COVID-19-related symptoms, or if you’ve tested positive and are under a quarantine imposed by a doctor. Some courts are doing screenings, like temperature checks, before they even let you into the building – so if you’re sick, you won’t get through the front doors.

But its your CASE! It’s divorce or custody. You set this hearing – or this settlement conference – a million years ago and you’ve been anxiously waiting for this date! What do you do?

Well, there’s no perfect solution here. I know most people are really eager to get their cases over with, or, at least, to get out from under the shadow of an impending court hearing. You’ve psyched yourself up for your hearing, and the thought of a delay is physically painful. Maybe there’ve been a million other delays leading up to this, too. Hey, it’s crazy times. I’ve never seen anything like it.

But you can’t go to court if you have a fever, or COVID-19 symptoms, or, obviously, a positive COVID-19 result. You have to follow the quarantine instructions of your doctor. If you’ve had an exposure, you should generally be prepared to follow the CDC’s guidance, too.

So, you have a hearing. You’re sick. What should you do?

Obviously, the more time you have in advance, the better. But it’s not perfect times, and you may wake up with a fever the morning of your hearing. It can’t be helped.

You should call your attorney and make sure she’s aware of the situation as soon as you know that you’re not going to be able to attend court. Depending on how much lead time you’re able to give her, she may be able to secure a continuance – or not. It’s entirely possible, especially if you’re down to the last minute before your hearing, that your attorney will need to go to court anyway.

What will happen? It’s anybody’s guess. Even though the Supreme Court has said that continuances should be liberally granted during COVID-19, I’ve heard of judges moving forward with hearings anyway.

It’s scary, and it’s not a situation anyone wants to find themselves in – but if you’re sick, you’re sick, and anyway you probably couldn’t get through the front doors in your condition. So, it’s not like you have options, except that you could, potentially, appeal a bad result. It’s worth talking to an attorney one on one about your options, if a trial was held in your absence and you’re considering appealing.

Will I need a doctor’s note? Proof that I was tested?

I mean, it can’t hurt. If you went to the doctor before your hearing and you have time to provide the evidence before your hearing actually happens, it’s a good idea to provide the note. Most doctors are happy to provide notes.

If you have a COVID-19 test, it wouldn’t hurt to provide that, either. Even if you ultimately wind up testing negative, your test could still prove that you were tested on or before the date of the hearing. There’s a lot of information that can be gleaned from this testing, and it’s generally helpful to have as much evidence as possible – just in case.

You can’t help if you’re sick, even if the timing completely sucks! It’s not perfect, but, in most cases, we can help. You’ll definitely want to reach out to your attorney as soon as possible so that we can start to work through any related issues – reaching out to opposing counsel, calling the court clerk, and making any changes we need to make before the hearing.

The more lead time you can give, the better; don’t just assume you’ll be feeling better or that your negative test results will have come in. Let your attorney know as soon as there is a problem so that you can have as many options available to you as possible.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.