Frequently Asked Questions Involving Courts and COVID-19
Snapshot of State Courts During COVID-19
The following chart was compiled in October 2020 to give a brief overview of how state courts are handling civil cases, mostly protection orders, custody, and divorce. Please check with your local courthouse to confirm that this information is still current before relying upon it. Click on your state’s link below to skip to that state’s information in the chart.
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
|Protection orders, custody||
Courts are accepting filings and documents through court dropboxes and efiling. Hearings are generally held remotely unless the party feels unsafe but in-person hearings can occur for certain types of cases.
The Alabama State Bar website has links to each county’s administrative orders and procedures for re-opening and conducting hearings, whether in person or virtual.
|Protection orders, custody||
Courts are accepting filings through dropboxes, but the preference is to send all documents through efiling. Email is also available. Courts will be prioritizing protection orders. Hearings are generally held remotely but can be in-person if party feels unsafe.
Parents are encouraged to follow their settled custody agreement. If you come to an agreement about changes to a current order, put it in writing and send it to the presiding judge.
|Protection orders, custody||
Protection orders are generally conducted remotely but can be in-person in serious situations.
The court guidance strongly encourage all parents to first attempt to work together to resolve any issues. If both parents agree to modify the parenting plan, you are encouraged to put your agreement in writing and sign it, if possible. If both parents cannot decide on a revised parenting time plan, and one of you believes an adjustment is necessary, you can file a modification petition in court to request a temporary modification. Courts can allow filing a motion to temporarily modify parenting time or child support under without an underlying petition if the basis for temporary relief is related primarily to COVID-19.
|Protection orders, custody||Protection orders and emergency custody cases are generally being held remotely but can be held in person to protect a party’s safety. Court appearance priority is given to proceedings involving orders of protection, emergency child custody.|
Restraining order filing can be done at a physical location, dropbox, or, if possible, through electronic means.
Any emergency protective order that is issued during the state of emergency must remain in effect for up to 30 days from the date of issuance.
Any temporary restraining order or gun violence emergency protective order issued or set to expire during the state of emergency must remain in effect until a hearing can occur, for up to 90 days.
Upon the filing of a request to renew a restraining order after hearing that is set to expire during the state of emergency, the current order must remain in effect until a hearing on the renewal can occur, for up to 90 days from the date of expiration.
|Protection orders||Some districts accept e-filing and dropbox but others do not. Hearings are generally held through video conferencing but can be in-person.|
|Divorce||Hearings are generally held remotely. Courts will easily accept settlement agreements. Judges can hear disputed cases but it may take long to get on the docket.|
|Custody||Parents are encouraged to follow their existing parenting plan. If the parties agree on a modification, put it in writing and send it to the appropriate court. Hearings are generally held remotely, but parties are encouraged to resolve any issues prior to requesting court assistance.|
|Protection orders||Allows online filing for temporary orders. See the courts website for instructions. The courts also have lockboxes where you can deposit any documents. Hearings are generally held remotely unless the petitioner feels safer doing it in person.|
|Custody||Documents are accepted by e-filing or dropboxes. Parties are encouraged to follow their existing parenting plan. If the parties agree on a modification, put it in writing and contact your local court to let them know. Modifications can be put into place without a hearing. Hearings, if needed, can be held remotely.|
|Divorce where the parties agree on all issues||E-filing and dropboxes are available. These cases can be approved and ordered quickly, often without a hearing.|
|Divorce where the parties don’t agree on all issues||Submit documents through e-filing or physical dropboxes. The courts will have remote hearings, but it may take a while to get on the docket.|
The court is accepting filings by dropboxes at the courthouse or by the emergency filing email: FC_COVID19delaware.gov
Hearings are generally held remotely but they can be held in person.
Parties are encouraged to follow their current parenting plan. The court is accepting paper filings at the courthouses in dropboxes or by email: FC_CustodyVisitationdelaware.gov
Hearings are generally held remotely.
Accepting paper filings in courthouse dropboxes or by email at: FC_DivorceAncillarydelaware.gov
Hearings are generally held remotely.
|District of Columbia|
|Domestic violence civil protection orders & extreme risk protection orders||Civil filings are accepted online at https://www.probono.net/dccourts/ or via email at domesticviolencemanagementdcsc.govHearings are generally being held remotely but they can be conducted in person.|
Filings should be submitted through e-filing at https://dc.casefilexpress.com/Login.aspx.
The court is hearing uncontested and settled matters as well as emergency matters. Those matters requiring a hearing are being set at the judge’s discretion.
The court encourages parties to follow the existing parenting plan. If parties agree on a modification, put it in writing and contact your local court.
Emergency matters and those that can be solved simply through filings, without hearings or proceedings, are being handled. Matters requiring a hearing are being set at the judge’s discretion.
|Protection orders||Filings can be submitted through e-filing or in person with the clerk of court. Hearings are generally handled remotely but can be in person.|
|Custody||Family law forms do not have to be notarized. Parties are encouraged to follow current parenting plans. If parties agree on a modification, put it in writing and contact the appropriate court. Hearings are handled remotely.|
|Divorce||Certain divorce forms still need to be notarized by the clerk, specifically marital settlement agreement forms and any other family law form that transfers the ownership of property. Hearings are handled remotely.|
|Protection orders||Court must give priority to matters necessary to protect health, safety, and liberty of individuals, including domestic abuse temporary orders and restraining orders. Hearings are generally handled remotely but the court is open for emergency situations.|
Parties are encouraged to follow current parenting plan. If parties agree on a modification, put it in writing and contact the appropriate court.
If your agreement follows a school year schedule, some courts have decided that parents should continue to follow the school calendar even if children are not in school. Check with your county’s family court to see if this is true for you.
Hearings are generally being handled remotely.
|Protection orders||Filings are accepted through e-file, email (at efileguamcourts.org), postal mail, or courthouse dropboxes. Hearings are generally held remotely but can be in person to protect the party’s safety.|
|Custody||Parties are encouraged to follow the existing parenting plan. If you agree on a modification, put it in writing and contact your local court. Hearings are held remotely.|
|Divorce||Courts are accepting divorce petitions, but it will take a while for the court to catch up and schedule the case. Hearings are generally held remotely.|
|Protection orders||Courts encourage electronic filing. Information about e-filing can be found on the courts website. You can also file at the court information booths. Protection order hearings can be handled in person.|
|Custody||Parties are encouraged to follow their existing parenting plan. If parties agree on a modification, put it in writing and contact your local court. Hearings are typically handled remotely.|
|Divorce||Hearings are generally conducted remotely. You can contact your local court to schedule settlement conferences or hearings with the judge.|
Most court hearings are being held remotely but petitions can still be filed in person.
Parties who want to offer documentary evidence during a remote hearing should provide the court and all parties a list of such exhibits and copies at least seventy-two (72) hours before the hearing.
|Circuit court cases||Electronic filing is encouraged. Hearings are typically handled remotely, but can be held in person. Some courts separate in-person hearing hours for cases where both parties are self-represented as opposed to cases where one or both parties are represented by lawyers. The Illinois Courts website has links to the court reopening plans by county.|
|Protection orders||Parties are encouraged to submit these filings through the e-filing system but you can also use dropboxes at the courts. Hearings are generally handled remotely, but in some counties and districts they are being held in person.|
|Custody||Parents are encouraged to follow their existing parenting plan. If you agree to a modification, put it in writing. You do not have to send it to the court, although you can. If you cannot come to an agreement, file an emergency petition to modify the existing order. Electronic filing is encouraged. Hearings are generally held remotely.|
|Divorce||The court encourages e-filings, but they will also accept filings through dropboxes. Some districts accept email or mail. Hearings are generally held remotely.|
|Protection orders||The courts encourage e-filing but if you are not signed up for it, or if you are excused from using it, you can send your filings in by email. Contact your local clerk of court for the email address. Hearings are generally handled remotely, but can be in person.|
|Custody||Custody, care, or visitation of a child should follow the schedule as if school is in session and should not be impacted or modified by any school closures. Parents are encouraged to follow their current parenting plan. If parents agree on a modification, they can put it in writing and contact the local court. Hearings are generally handled remotely.|
|Protection orders||The courts encourage e-filing. To find alternatives to efiling, contact your clerk of court. These proceedings are generally being held remotely, but can be held in person.|
|Custody||Parents are encouraged to follow their current parenting plan. If parents agree on a modification, they can put it in writing and contact their local court. Hearings will likely be held remotely.|
|Protection orders||Depending on the county, petitioners may fill out a pre-assembled package containing instructions and a blank petition at the courthouse. Some courts require petitioners to mail, e-file or drop off all paperwork in dropbox in front of the court building. Some courts are holding in-person hearings, some are holding remote hearings.|
|Custody, divorce||Hearings usually are held remotely unless it involves a child being in danger in which case there can be an in-person hearing.|
|Civil cases||Depending on the court, litigants may be able to file remotely by fax, email or e-filing or they may file in person. Most parishes use this e-file system.|
|Protection from abuse orders & protection from harassment orders||
Starting on September 8, 2020, the courts will no longer accept requests for protection from abuse or harassment by email. The preferred way to ask for a protection order is to go to your local courthouse in person. If going to your local courthouse is not an option, you can also ask for a protection order by mail. If the petitioner goes to a courthouse but cannot enter because of health risks, the marshals will provide the paper packet at the door and will accept it when it is completed. Instead of signing the documents in front of the clerk for notarization, the petitioner will need to provide a safe phone number and the court will call them from the courtroom and take their oath on the record. To download the paperwork to fill out, and for more information, see the Maine courts FAQ page.
Hearings are generally being heard in person.
The court is not prioritizing the scheduling of contested family proceedings. If a party believes that there are urgent and compelling reasons that the court should hear their case, they can file a written motion requesting a hearing. Existing custody orders are still in effect. The spread of COVID-19, in and of itself, is not a reason to deny parenting time.
Hearings in family proceedings will be by video or telephone, unless (1) it is a hearing on a motion for contempt, or (2) the court makes an exception. If you think the court should hold your hearing in person, you must file a written request (a motion) that explains the special circumstances in your case that justify an in-person hearing.
|Protective orders, custody||It may depend on which “phase” of re-opening your local court is in but most courts are hearing these matters in person: temporary restraining orders, matters that can be handled remotely or without testimony or both, temporary and final domestic violence, peace, and extreme risk protective orders.|
|Protection orders||Some courts are hearing cases over the telephone, some are doing video conferencing, and some courts are doing in-person hearings. If you need a 209A restraining order you can fill out a 209A application on your phone or computer. Then get in touch with your court to find out how to file the forms.|
|Custody||Many courts are doing these hearings remotely. Some courts have drop-boxes you can use to hand deliver documents you need to file. If petitioners think they have an emergency matter related to parenting time, they should file a Complaint for Modification and a Motion for Temporary Orders. They should also write a statement that explains why their matter is an emergency. A judge will later determine if it is an emergency or not.|
|Personal protection orders||Hearings being held in person. Petitioners can prepare an ex parte petition using the Do It Yourself Personal Protection Order tool. After completing the previous step, petitioners should then call their county clerk’s office or visit the court’s website to determine if they should file the petition in person or through another way. After they file the petition, the judge has 24 hours to review it. Petitioners should call the clerk’s office to find out whether they should pick up the order, or whether it will sent it to them.|
|Custody||Parents should follow existing parenting orders; should record any temporary agreements in writing. Hearings generally being held remotely except for emergency orders needed for the safety and well-being of a party and/or children, which can be held in person.|
|Protection orders||Generally hearings are being held in person.|
Custody and parenting orders are still in effect. If the parents want to make changes to the court order but cannot agree, they could try mediation or try to get an emergency court order. If one parent does not follow the court order, then the other parent could file an emergency ex parte motion with the court.
Hearings are mostly being held remotely. Exhibits that you plan to enter into evidence at a hearing can be sent to the court by mail, fax, email, dropbox at the courthouse, or in person to the court’s public counter. Exhibit should be given to the court at least five business days before your hearing if possible and also sent to the other party.
|Relief from abuse orders, orders of protection||Hearings are being held in person.|
|Custody||Existing custody orders are in effect. Hearings may be held remotely unless it is regarding an emergency child custody order, which can be held in person.|
Current custody orders are still in effect. Parents can make changes to an existing court order if they can mutually agree on an alternative plan. They should put any changes they make to the existing court order in writing. If parents cannot come to an agreement, then they are expected to safely comply with the existing court order or file in court to change it.
Generally, hearings may be held remotely, depending on what “phase” the county is in. To see a map of phases by county, go to the Missouri Courts website. Emergency child custody orders can be be held in person regardless of the phase of the court.
|Orders of protection||Hearings are generally being held in person.|
|Civil cases||You may need to call or email ahead of time to pick up forms or to file forms. Walk-in traffic may not be permitted. Call your local court for more information.|
Courts are accepting applications for protection orders. Some courthouses have limited public access, so please check with your local courthouse to see if an appointment is required.
You can submit the forms by mail, fax, in person or by email but your signature on the form must be witnessed by a notary or by court staff. The Nebraska Judicial Branch website has detailed instructions on how to email forms.
|Custody||Parents are encouraged to continue following their existing custody and parenting orders. If you need to file a petition or motion related to custody, contact the court for instructions on how to file the forms.|
|Protection orders||Petitions for ex parte protection orders can be heard in person. If you have a scheduled hearing for an extension of a protection order, the hearing may be conducted by telephone or video.|
|Custody||Non-emergency custody hearings may be conducted by video or telephonic means, decided on the papers, or rescheduled. Emergency custody matters may be in-person appearances.|
|Orders of protection||
The court forms to request an order of protection are available online or in person at the courthouse. Unless you are working with a Crisis Center or Family Justice Center, completed forms must be brought to the courthouse in person so a judge can make a decision while you are there.
Additional hearings can be in person, but they may be rescheduled as telephonic hearings.
|Custody||Emergency custody matters can be held in person. Other hearings will likely be telephonic. If you do not have access to a phone, you can attend in person. If you believe an emergency order is necessary, you can use form NHJB-2076-F. Your completed form must be brought to the courthouse in person so a judge can make a decision while you are there. If you go to the courthouse to file a document that is not an emergency matter, you will be directed to put your document into the court’s drop box at or near the security desk.|
You can file a joint petition for divorce by mailing it to the court nearest you. If you would like to complete the paperwork for a divorce prior to filing the petition, you can contact a mediator to see if you can come to an agreement with your spouse. If the judge reviews and approves the agreement, you may not need to come to court in the future.
You can also file an individual petition for divorce by mailing it to the court nearest you. Then the court will send you paperwork to be served on the other person. You can still seek mediation to see if you can come to an agreement.
|Restraining orders||You can go to the county courthouse during normal court hours to file a petition. An individual who wishes to apply for a restraining order remotely, without going to a courthouse, can call the Family Division. The Family Division in each county will have a telephone number posted on their web page to contact the court to apply for a restraining order. Violation (contempt) petitions are being heard remotely.|
|Custody, parenting time||Generally being heard through Zoom or on the phone. Appointments are needed for in-person matters. However, bench trials and hearings can be held for matters that are especially complex, such as cases that involve numerous parties or witnesses, or significant evidence in a format that cannot be handled remotely, such as physical evidence or videos in a non-standard format.|
|Civil cases||Courts are open and will continue to operate under regular business hours. However, some clerks’ office may have reduced hours for accepting forms. Courts can adopt their own local procedures for accepting filings by email or by fax for pro se litigants. Judges can, at their discretion, authorize telephonic or audiovisual attendance for court appearances.|
|Family court cases||Courts are accepting emergency petitions and essential matters, such as orders of protections. Depending on the county, courts may also be accepting non-essential and non-emergency applications in pending cases but possible not allowing the initiation of new cases involving non-essential and non-emergency matters. In addition, cases are being heard in person and remotely, depending on the court and the type of case. Check with your court to be sure.|
|Protective orders||Courts are operating with reduced capacity. For domestic violence protective orders, the hearings can be conducted in person if the judge determines that such proceedings can be conducted under conditions that protect the health and safety of all participants.|
|Ongoing civil cases||Filings can be mailed and will be treated as timely if received by mail within 5 days of the due date. Documents that ordinarily require a notary can be submitted with a signed statement under penalty of perjury.|
|Custody, parenting time||The spread of COVID-19, in and of itself, is not a reason to deny parenting time. If parenting time is ordered to be supervised and the supervisor is unavailable due to pandemic-related issues or other government orders, parenting time should be conducted virtually or by telephone. During the exchange of the child(ren), all parties should follow the CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of the virus, which may mean choosing an alternate location for the exchanges that has fewer people and less touching of public items.|
|Protection orders, custody, divorce||Each individual judge has the discretion to conduct court proceedings in person or virtually as he or she sees fit. The state encourages judges to accept written submissions and electronic or telephone appearances in lieu of requiring litigants, attorneys, and others to be personally present at hearings. The intention is that courts will continue to process decisions related to divorce proceedings the placement and protection of children and other vulnerable people without delay.|
|Civil cases||During this public health emergency, Ohio courts are operating under amended rules of court. Click on your courthouse on the Ohio Courts website to see what changes, if any, are in place due to Covid.|
|Protection orders||Generally, emergency matters such as protection orders are being held in person.|
|Custody||Custody and visitation/parenting time should not be affected by any school closures that arise from the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents can alter a custody and/or visitation order by written agreement, if allowed by the assigned judge. Written modification agreements will not be enforced unless filed. Based upon courthouse restrictions, it is recommended that the original signed written agreement, including the case number, be mailed to the court clerk’s office in the district court which has jurisdiction over the parties.|
|Restraining orders||Cases may be held remotely. If you are filing a petition, there may be reduced hours for the court clerk to accept petitions.|
|Custody, parenting time||COVID-19 is not a reason to deny parenting time. If the parenting plan states that parenting time will occur in a public place, public places where people routinely touch common contact surfaces (such as parks and play equipment) should be avoided. If that is not possible, then the parenting time should be conducted virtually via videoconferencing or by telephone.|
|Civil cases||In-person proceedings have resumed in many courts for various types of cases. During in-person hearings, some courts are limiting who can be present. Witnesses, for example, may have to testify remotely. Other cases, such as custody conferences or status hearings, may be held remotely. Exhibits or other documents that need to be presented in a remote hearing or conference may need to be mailed or emailed to the other party and the judge at least 48 hours before the court date. Check with your local court for details.|
You can file for a protection order remotely by filling out the necessary forms and emailing them to presentacionesramajudicial.pr. The court will then contact you to do a remote hearing. You can access the forms on the Rama Judicial website.
In-person hearings are being held for family relations matters and final protection order cases only if they cannot be resolved via videoconference.
|Restraining orders||Courts are limiting in-person hearings to the greatest extent possible. Matters that are considered critical or which cannot be handled remotely should be conducted in-person. Restraining order hearings can be held in person unless the matter can be heard or addressed remotely by telephone, videoconference, or similar means.|
|Custody||Non-emergency hearings that cannot be conducted remotely will be scheduled by the courts for in-person hearings. Electronic filing is preferred. For in-person filings, an appointment is likely needed. See the Rhode Island Courts website for more information.|
|Family court matters||All matters may be heard in-person. Judges, however, have discretion to determine whether it is appropriate to conduct a hearing using remote communication technology. Family Court judges can grant an uncontested divorce or approve a settlement agreement or consent order without a hearing. See 9/14/20 Memo, South Carolina Supreme Court.|
|Civil cases||Filings should go through Odyssey, or be mailed, or emailed to the clerk of court’s office whenever possible. Hearings may be held remotely. Call court for more information.|
|Civil cases||Majority of hearings may be conducted remotely but in-person proceedings may be allowed for relief from abuse orders. Each court has their own plan for what in-person proceedings are allowed, which you can view on the Tennessee Courts website.|
|Family violence protective orders, custody (possession of and access to a child)||
The court guidance says that all proceedings should occur remotely (such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means) unless litigants or other court participants are unable to successfully participate in a remote hearing for reasons beyond the court’s control.
Possession of and access to a child shall not be affected by any shelter-in-place order, school closure, or other order restricting movement issued by a governmental entity that arises from the pandemic. Parents can change a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court orders.
|U.S. Virgin Islands|
Clerks offices accepting filings electronically, by email, or deposited to drop boxes; parties strongly encouraged to file electronically whenever possible.
In-person hearings can take place. However, judicial officers are encouraged to hold remote hearings for any matter capable of being heard remotely. Arrangements must be made at court facilities for onsite remote appearances by parties without the electronic capabilities to fully appear remotely.
|Protective orders, custody/parenting time||
Protective orders and stalking injunctions can now be filed by email. See email instructions on the Utah Courts website. Depending on what phase the court is following, remote hearings may be “mandatory” or “conducted as much as feasible.”
The state issues this as a “non-binding recommendation”: There should be no deviation from the normal parent-time schedule unless the child or someone in the child’s home has tested positive for COVID-19. If that is the case, the custodial parent must provide documentation of the positive COVID-19 test to the non-custodial parent within 24 hours. Following provision of the positive test, parent-time will be suspended for a period of two weeks. During the period of suspended parent-time, the noncustodial parent shall have at least 30 minutes of virtual parent-time each day. The missed parent time will be made up during summer break or at another time agreed upon by both parties.
|Relief from abuse orders, custody||
Courts are holding hearings for motions to suspend, modify, or enforce parent-child contact in domestic cases when the court, in its discretion, determines an emergency exists; relief from abuse and stalking order cases; other temporary emergency hearings at the judge’s discretion. Non-emergency superior court proceedings are postponed.
May file electronically through eCabinet or Odyssey online systems, e-mail, paper filing at court’s dropbox, or mail your filing directly to the court. Contact your court to find out if electronic filing is required.
|Civil cases||Courts are conducting as much business as possible remotely. In all matters, courts are encouraged to use video conferencing, telephone, teleconferencing, email, or other means that do not involve in-person contact.|
Petitions can be filed in person or electronically.
Courts are prioritizing emergency matters but courts are also hearing non-emergency matters, so long as such matters can appropriately be conducted by telephone, video or other remote means, or in person with strict observance of social distancing and other public health measures.
Remote hearings are encouraged.
Even as of October 2020, some courts are closed in unless it’s for emergencies or essential matters. Check the West Virginia Courts website for updated information.
|Restraining orders||Many court proceedings are remote. Courts are gradually resuming in-person proceedings. In the first phase, courts can do in person hearings for restraining orders, temporary order hearings if placement of a child is at issue, enforcement of physical placement orders, relocation motions. Phase two allows in-person hearings for allow all civil proceedings other than jury trials. Check with your courthouse to see what “phase” your court is in.|
|Orders of protection, custody||Courts are using all reasonable efforts to conduct all proceedings remotely by teleconferencing or videoconferencing, unless litigants are unable to successfully participate in a remote hearing for reasons beyond the court’s control. However, courts can hear orders of protection and emergency child custody petitions in person.|
I haven’t yet received my stimulus check. Can I check the status of my stimulus payment?
I never received my stimulus check. How might the abuser have taken my stimulus payment?
If you suspect the abuser may have taken your stimulus payment, it is important to understand the ways in which an abuser might get your stimulus money. Depending on how the abuser got your stimulus money, you may have different options in terms of how to recover it. Below are some examples of scenarios in which the abuser may have gotten your stimulus money.
- For the first and second rounds of stimulus payments. You filed a joint tax return for 2018 or 2019 and had your refund automatically deposited into a joint bank account or into the abuser’s account. The government used information from your most recently filed tax return to send out stimulus money, and so the stimulus amount went into this account and the abuser moved it or denied you access to the account. Alternatively, the stimulus may have been delivered in the mail by check or debit card to the address on the tax return and you were denied access to the check or forced to sign it over to the abuser.
- For the third round of stimulus payments. You filed a joint tax return for 2019 or 2020 and had your refund automatically deposited into a joint bank account or into the abuser’s account. The government used information from your most recently filed tax return to send out stimulus money, and so the stimulus amount went into this account and the abuser moved it or denied you access to the account. Alternatively, the stimulus may have been delivered in the mail by check or debit card to the address on the tax return and you were denied access to the check or forced to sign it over to the abuser.
- The abuser fraudulently filed a joint tax return using your information for 2018, 2019 and/or 2020 either without your consent or by forcing your participation, and the stimulus payment(s) were issued based on the fraudulent tax return. The stimulus was then delivered to the address on the tax return by check or debit card, or deposited into the bank account listed on the tax return and you were denied access to your portion of the stimulus. There is a Handout written by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Community Tax Law Project that addresses this topic as well as a blog post from the National Taxpayer Advocate with more information on this scenario.
- The abuser took a check that was rightfully mailed to you at your new separate address or at your old address that you shared with the abuser, or the abuser accessed your separate bank account to withdraw or transfer the money out without your permission.
What can I do if I am no longer married, or legally separated, and the abuser takes my stimulus payment?
If you are not married to an abuser, already divorced from him/her, a divorce is pending, or you have both signed a separation agreement, then there are a few things you can do to try to get your stimulus payment back.
- The first option, if it is safe to do so, is to ask the person if s/he received your stimulus payment and when s/he plans to turn it over to you. It is possible that money could have been deposited into an account and the other party did not realize it. If asking for the money does nothing, the next step is to ask about it in writing to begin to create a paper trail. You could do this yourself if it’s safe to do so or have a lawyer help you, if possible. The CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act state that “with respect to a joint return, half of such refund or credit shall be treated as having been made or allowed to each individual filing such return.”1 This means that even if the stimulus was issued to you and the abuser via one check or one direct deposit, one-half of the stimulus payment belongs to you. This language from the law might be useful when writing a demand letter.
- If there is a divorce pending, then you can ask the judge in the divorce case to order the payment returned to you. You may be able to do this at a hearing, or it is possible that you would have to submit a formal motion. It may be advisable to cite the language from the law supporting that your portion of the stimulus is your property.
- Taking money that belongs to another person when the parties are not married could be considered theft. When someone experiences a crime, s/he may be able to contact the police for assistance. The police may take action, or they might say it is a “civil matter” and refuse to get involved. If you are currently married to the abuser, going to the police may not be an option because most assets in a marriage are joint assets and cannot be stolen from one another. You can see more information about joint assets at the end of this question.
- Depending on the rules in your state, you may be able to bring a civil lawsuit against the abuser. If a divorce is pending, the issue may have to be addressed through the divorce proceedings, but if there is no divorce pending, a person who had money taken from him/her may be able to file a claim in small claims court. Small claims court is a less formal type of court, and many people are able to go to small claims court without the help of a lawyer. You can ask the court clerk at your local civil court for more information on small claims court in your area. You can also read some general information on small claims court, including how much money you can ask for in small claims court in your state, on our Suing an Abuser for Money page.
- In some circumstances, it might be possible for you to file a superseding separate tax return for 2020 to change your 2020 filing status, bank account information, and address by the deadline for filing your 2020 tax return (which is now May 17, 2021). The hope is that when the separate superseding 2020 tax return is processed, even if a joint 2020 tax return was already filed, it would update your information with the IRS and qualify you for your own separate stimulus payment(s) issued after the 2020 tax return is processed. You can also claim your separate Recovery Rebate Credit on the superseding tax return for which you think you are eligible. Changing your filing status might result in more taxes being owed, and so you will want to talk to a tax professional to see if this is a viable option for you. Here is a Blog Post with more information about this method. WomensLaw is not associated with this website and we cannot vouch for the information it contains.
- You might also be able to claim your first two stimulus payments for yourself as a credit (known as the Recovery Rebate Credit or “RRC”) when you file your 2020 tax return in 2021. Make sure to indicate to the IRS on your tax return that you did not receive your stimulus payment(s). The IRS will likely challenge this if their records show payments were already issued under your SSN, so you will need to argue, and prove if possible, that you did not receive the stimulus payments. The IRS will likely provide you with a limited timeframe of 60 days to respond to their denial of the credit. You should respond to the IRS within that timeframe and you may want to work with a tax professional for help with how to respond to the IRS by certified mail. The letter could explain the situation in detail and demand your stimulus payment if, for example, the IRS wrongfully put into an account to which you have no access. There is a Handout written by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Community Tax Law Project that explains this process in more detail.
1 CARES Act, within SEC. 6248, 2020 Recovery Rebates for Individuals pp 144-145
What can I do if I am married and my spouse takes my stimulus check?
Generally, most of the funds that come into a marriage are considered joint money. This means that both spouses are equally allowed to access as much of the joint funds as they want. One person’s money is also the other person’s money, and vice versa. When one spouse takes joint funds, it is not usually considered stealing because you cannot steal from yourself. In some places, spouses cannot sue one another, other than for divorce, for this same reason. However, some states may allow spouses to sue one another. You will have to check with the court clerk or a lawyer in your area to see if filing a small claims action is an option for you.
If small claims court is not possible, then one other option is to file for divorce and ask the divorce judge to order that the stimulus payment be returned to you. Divorce can be complicated and so you will want to consult with a lawyer before deciding on whether or not to file for divorce. We have more information in our Divorce section.
You might also be able to claim your stimulus payment for yourself as a married individual when you file your 2020 tax return in 2021, if you file as married filing separately. Make sure to indicate to the IRS that you did not receive your stimulus payment(s). The IRS will likely challenge this if their records show payments were already issued under your SSN, so you will need to argue, and prove if possible, that you did not receive the stimulus payments. The IRS will likely provide you with a limited timeframe of 60 days to respond to their denial of the credit. You should respond to the IRS within that timeframe, and you may want to work with a tax professional for help with how to respond to the IRS by certified mail. The letter could explain the situation in detail and demand your stimulus payment if, for example, the IRS wrongfully put into an account to which you have no access. There is a Handout written by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Community Tax Law Project that explains this process in more detail.
Restraining Order Cases During COVID-19
How do I know if my local courthouse is still open?
You can call your local courthouse or your attorney (if you have one) directly to find out what court appearances are still taking place. You can find contact information for local courts in your state in WomensLaw.org’s Courthouse Locations section. You can also find your specific courthouse information in any documents you have from your case. If you are unable to reach anyone by phone, try your state court’s website. To find out the status of your state or local court, you can visit the National Center for State Courts’ website where you can find the latest information on your state and local courts and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m not sure if my court date is still scheduled. What do I do?
You should first try to call or check online to find out if your courthouse is open and if your court hearing is still on the calendar. If your court appearance or hearing has not been postponed, and you do not appear, there may be consequences. For example, if your case is a criminal case and you do not appear, the judge might revoke your bail, issue a warrant for your arrest, or take other steps. In a civil case, a judge might dismiss a petition or issue a default judgment for the other party (depending on if you are the petitioner or respondent). If you are unsure or unable to determine if your court date is still scheduled, you may want to consider making plans to attend until you hear otherwise.
What happens if my court date was canceled or postponed (adjourned)?
If you find out that your court case has been postponed, the letter or the notice where you learned this information should also explain what will happen to your case going forward. If you received a letter, it might set a new date for your case. If the court is closed, then there may be a time in the future when the court will begin to reschedule court appearances. If you still have questions, you may be able to call the court clerk for more information. If you already have a restraining order, you can ask the court clerk if the expiration date has been extended. If it has been extended, ask for the new expiration date and request a confirmation letter in the mail. If your court date was canceled, you can ask if there is a new date. If there is a new date, ask for a confirmation letter in the mail.
What should I do about my case if I test positive for COVID-19 or I am experiencing symptoms?
If you think you are sick, review the symptoms of COVID-19 and call your doctor or local health department. Ask your doctor to email you a letter immediately that mentions your symptoms and ask the doctor to specifically recommend that you do not attend court. You should also contact the court clerk where your case is pending to let them know about your situation and to ask for an adjournment. Ask the clerk for an email address where you can send the doctor’s note as proof that you are sick. The court should postpone your case so that you can take the time you need to recover and lower the risk that you might spread the virus to others. If you are not well enough to contact the court on your own, you may be able to have someone else reach out to them for you. Once you email your doctor’s letter, you should follow up with the clerk to make sure that the letter was received and that it was sent to the judge and to the opposing party or their lawyer.
I don’t have a restraining order, but I need one. Can I still get one?
Most courts are continuing to issue restraining orders (also called protection orders, injunctions, orders of protection, protective orders, or other similar names). Check with your courthouse to see if the filing location or hours have changed with the new COVID-19 precautions in place, or if online filing is permitted. Your local courthouse may have forms available to request a restraining order. You might also be able to find forms on your state court’s website or on WomensLaw.org’s Download Court Forms page.
You can also check WomensLaw.org’s Restraining Orders page for help determining whether you would qualify for an order. If you are in immediate danger, you may want to consider contacting the police if that is a safe option for you.
I already have a temporary restraining order. My courthouse has canceled in-person hearings. Can I still get a final order?
In light of the current pandemic, many courts are extending temporary restraining orders so that they do not expire before you are able to have a hearing to get a final order. Some courts are sending letters to individuals about their specific case, and some are issuing statewide notices about the status of the courts and court orders. You may or you may not receive notice from the court about an extension. You should not assume that your order is extended unless you have received a letter that says this, or unless your state has issued a statewide notice about restraining orders. You may want to call the court for further guidance on extending or keeping in place your current restraining order. The paperwork you received after the court granted the initial order may have contact information, or you can look on WomensLaw.org’s Courthouse Locations page. You can also find state-by-state information about court operations in this time of crisis on the National Center for State Courts’ website.
My restraining order has been violated. What can I do?
If your order has been violated, or if you are in immediate danger, you may want to consider contacting the police if that is a safe option for you. Violations of protection/restraining orders are usually arrestable offenses. If you are not already working with a local victim advocate, you may want to consider finding one. We have a list of Advocates and Shelters in your state on WomensLaw.org. They can help assess your risk and safety plan around your unique situation. For general safety tips, please visit the WomensLaw Safety Tips page. If you are concerned for your tech-related safety, especially if you are using technology now more than before, please check out additional resources in TechSafety.org’s Survivor Toolkit.
Virtual Hearings During COVID-19
Basic info and definitions
How can I start my case?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many state courts will allow you to start your case electronically - either through email or the court’s specific electronic filing system. Many states also still have in-person filing hours or drop-off services that allow for contactless in-person delivery of court filings. Additionally, you may be able to mail in your paperwork. However, the postal service is experiencing COVID-related delays. The in-person and electronic filing may be faster and more reliable than the option to send filings through the mail.
What type of hearing will I have?
In many states, you will have a virtual hearing. Some states are having in-person hearings even if you are able to file your paperwork electronically, so always follow the instructions provided to you by the court.
What is a virtual hearing?
Virtual hearings are court hearings that take place through phone or video conferences, instead of in-person hearings in the courthouse. COVID-19 has made in-person hearings unsafe or challenging in some states, so courts are moving hearings online to continue to process cases. You can participate through video conferencing software (like Zoom) or connect by phone (if allowed by your court).
How do I know if I have a virtual hearing?
The most important thing to keep in mind is to be in contact with the court. Regardless of how you file your case or documents, someone from the court should follow up with you as to how your case will proceed. This may be through mail or phone, so be sure to give the court a current phone number and mailing address.
The virtual hearing process
How do I serve the respondent before my hearing?
Generally, the court will allow you to serve the abuser in the same way that the court allows for filing documents. For example, if the court allows you to file your case through email, the respondent can also be served through email. Mail is often another option, but with possible delays in mail service, courts advise sending court paperwork at least 10 days ahead of time. You should confirm with a lawyer or the court clerk what form of service is acceptable.
What will the courtroom be like for my virtual hearing?
The process for your virtual hearing will likely be very similar to an in-person hearing, but you may be kept in a virtual waiting room until your case is called. If you are calling in rather than using video conference software, not being able to see the other party and the judge may be difficult. The order of events and the procedure for conducting the hearing typically remain the same.
How do I prepare for a virtual hearing?
There are a few things you can do to prepare for your hearing.
- Think about any documents or evidence you might want the judge to see. Your evidence can include anything that helps tell your story (medical records, photographs, text messages, phone records, etc.). The judge will decide what evidence s/he is allowed to consider under your state’s rules of evidence. You may need to submit all evidence and documents to the court before the hearing by scanning the documents or taking photos of them. The court should specify how and when you should submit documents.
- Have copies of the documents with you so you can refer to them easily during the hearing.
- If possible, set up for your hearing in a location where you will not be disturbed. Make sure that the audio and video equipment you are using is working properly.
- Your court may use Zoom or other platforms (Skype, Webex) that require you to download software or an app to join the meeting. These downloads are free but make sure to download the software ahead of time. It may take time to download and you don’t want to be late to your hearing if you wait to download it right before your hearing starts. The court should provide you a link or phone number to join the hearing.
What technology do I need for a virtual hearing?
To join the hearing through video conferencing, you will need a device that has the ability to connect to the Internet. Keep in mind that you may need to have a computer, tablet, or phone that has a working camera. If you are using a cell phone that has a limited number of minutes, check that you have enough minutes available. Be aware of battery life. Keep electronics connected to a charger, if possible. Courts know that many people may need assistance to participate in a virtual hearing, but you should let them know if you need assistance. Communicate any accommodations or needs you have to the court due to any disabilities that you may have.