Questions & Answers: Your Guide to Civil Legal Issues During COVID-19

As we continue to watch the spread of COVID-19, our community will see many changes in our day-to-day lives. If you’re worried about a civil legal problem, or are wondering how changes in the courts, etc. may impact you, check out our Q&A below.

 

Table of Contents

 

 

Family Law/Domestic Violence

 

Q: I don’t get along with my child’s other parent. What should I do about it?

A: Courts are encouraging co-parenting more than ever before. If you have a pending case, the courts are working hard to maintain normalcy for you and your family while moving cases forward. They emphasize cooperation and collaboration between you and your co-parent as much as you’re able.

If you currently have a court-ordered parenting plan that includes timesharing, it is necessary to continue the court-ordered timesharing schedule. The parties to a parenting plan may temporarily modify the parenting plan by written agreement, but any permanent changes may require the filing of a new petition.

 

Q: I’m worried about my situation changing and want to be prepared with my parenting plan. What should I consider?

A: Consider making a temporary parenting plan. Temporary parenting plans focus on short-term needs and lay out an alternate parenting plan in extenuating circumstances. A temporary parenting plan should be outlined in an agreed-upon format and documented. They can address what if situations such as: What if my co-parent gets sick? What if I or my co-parent loses our job?

 

Q: I was told that there are no resources for me, a domestic violence survivor, because of the pandemic. 

A: This is NOT true. GLS can assist survivors of domestic violence with civil legal matters ranging from divorces, injunctions for protection, and many other services. All domestic violence shelters are operational and can assist you with making safety plans. GLS can provide these referrals to you. Please call us at 727-821-0726 ext. 244 for help. If you can’t talk on the phone, you can fill out an online application for help.

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of domestic violence and is seeking assistance, please reach out to your local domestic violence shelter:

 

 

Financial & Income

 

Question: What if I don’t meet the work requirements but need SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)?

Answer: DCF has suspended all SNAP (food assistance) time limits and work requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can apply online.

 

Q: What if I already have SNAP? Could I be eligible to get increased benefits?

A: Yes. If your monthly SNAP benefit is less than the maximum SNAP for your household, you will get a supplemental benefit up to the maximum SNAP grant.  If you already get the maximum SNAP benefit, you will not get extra SNAP.

Note: The USDA has recently increased monthly SNAP benefits by 40%

 

Q: I have questions about my stimulus check.

A: Check out Three Rivers Legal Services’ stimulus check guide:

 

 

Housing

 

Question: I lost my job because of the COVID-19 emergency, and I’m behind on my rent. Can my landlord evict me?

Answer: No. If you are behind on your rent because of the COVID-19 emergency, the landlord may not evict you while the Order applies.

 

Q: I live in a mobile home park; I own my mobile home and rent the lot. Does the executive order apply to me?

A: Yes. Since the Order stops all residential evictions, it applies to mobile-home park residents and RV park residents as well as people who rent homes, duplexes, and apartments.

 

Q: I have a section 8 voucher. How does the Order apply to me?

A: Your tenancy is governed by federal law – the new CARES Act. This federal law applies to evictions if your landlord gets federal assistance. The CARES Act prohibits evictions for non-payment of rent through August 31, 2020. It’s a good idea to check with your caseworker. If your income changes because you lost your job, your rent payments may be lowered.

 

Q: I’m a tenant who is behind on my rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic and my landlord just gave me a three day notice to pay or I will be evicted, what should I do?

A: Do not ignore the notice. Contact your landlord or management company to discuss alternatives and to see if they will make new arrangements with you based on this national emergency. If your landlord files an eviction, and gets a judgment to evict you, the Sheriff will not be able to execute a Writ of Possession until the Governor’s Executive Order suspending foreclosures and evictions expires.

 

Q: I don’t have to pay my rent, right?

A: Paying rent is your legal obligation in return for your landlord’s obligation to provide housing. The Order stops evictions until July 1, 2020, but it doesn’t stop your obligation to pay rent.  Keep in contact with your landlord during this crisis.

 

Q: Am I covered under the CARES Act? 

About 70% of mortgages are “federally backed or insured.” Federally subsidized housing can include Section 8, Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), Section 202, Section 236 etc.

Loans that are owned, purchased or securitized by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Fannie Mae), the Federal National Mortgage Association (Freddie Mac), FHA or VA loans are covered.

To find out if your mortgage is Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, call your servicer.

To find out if your mortgage is a FHA loan:

  • Check your mortgage documents for an FHA case document,
  • Call the owner,
  • Or check the monthly statement for FHA premium.

To find out if your mortgage is a VA loan, look for references to VA in your closing and mortgage documents.

To find out if your mortgage is with the Dept. of Agriculture of USDA Rural Housing Service, check your closing documents or contact the servicer.

 

Q: I have a Section 8 voucher, public housing, or some other subsidized housing and I lost my job. What should I do?

A: Report your loss of income immediately. The next month’s rent should be based on your new income. If there is delay in changing your rent, you should receive a rent adjustment during the following month (meaning money will be returned to you).

 

 

Employment Law

 

Q: May an employer send home an employee involuntarily who has or is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?

A: Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is following the 2009 pandemic H1N1 flu guidance states that advising workers to go home either (a) is not a disability-related action if the illness is akin to seasonal influenza or (b) is permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the illness is serious enough to pose a direct threat to the employee or coworkers. This also applies to asymptomatic employees who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, or who is returning from travel to an area with “widespread sustained” transmission. This can further be employed as a preventative measure so long as an employee’s duties allow telework.

 

Q: When may an employee who was sent home for exhibiting symptoms (subjective or measured fever, cough, difficulty breathing) return to work?

A: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that an employee may return to work after 24 hours of no longer having or exhibiting any of the symptoms—without the aid of fever-reducing, or other symptom-masking medicines (cough suppressants).

 

Q: May an employer require an employee with COVID-19 to use his/her vacation time and/or other paid time off for their absence?

A: Generally, yes. This also applies to employees not exhibiting symptoms, but who have been in close contact with and individual with COVID-19 or is returning from an at-risk area.

 

Q: Does Florida law provide for paid sick days?

A: No, nothing in Florida state law requires private business to give employees paid sick leave. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does allow an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period if they need time off to deal with a “serious health condition” or care for an ill family member or new child (an asymptomatic employee may not qualify for FMLA). Under FMLA, although this leave time is unpaid, the employee’s job and benefits are protected during that time off. Note: FMLA only covers private employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and public or private elementary or secondary schools.

 

 Q: Must an employer pay a non-exempt (hourly) employee during closures due to COVID-19?

A: According to the Department of Labor (DOL), employers are only required to pay non-exempt employees for hours worked. As such, if a business closes temporarily due to COVID-19, it is not required to pay non-exempt employees, even if they may have been scheduled to work. However, these employees may be entitled to unemployment compensation or other state benefits during these closures due to COVID-19.

 

 

THESE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ARE PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE. LEGAL ADVICE CANNOT BE GIVEN WITHOUT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION.

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