Part II: Divorce & Family Law During the COVID-19 Crisis – Divorce + Pandemic = Uncertainty
June 8, 2020
In the best of cases, divorce is a complicated situation laced with difficult decisions, wide-ranging emotions, and the weight of uncertainty as you worry whether or not you can get a suitable result. Add a worldwide pandemic and a closed court system into the mix and you only compound an already stressful condition. Suddenly, you are faced with even more layers of complexity in an already challenging and chaotic process.
Many people who were contemplating divorce before COVID-19 find themselves in even more untenable circumstances now. Being confined at home has stretched some relationships to the brink and left others wondering if and how they can proceed with the divorce/custody process in the current environment and strained financial resources.
Now as the court system begins to reopen according to slowly phased in schedules, the system will be understandably backlogged for awhile. Except in cases of emergency, courts will need to reschedule trials canceled during the past several months before even considering hearing new matters.
So what does this mean for your divorce plans? Well, if you were already negotiating or mediating your divorce matter at the time the quarantine began, hopefully, you were able to continue that process in some fashion by electronic means and can continue bringing the matter to closure. If divorce litigation was already in process at the time of the pandemic, you will likely receive a new schedule of upcoming court appearances and deadlines. If you have not yet begun the process of divorce but needed to do so, you should consider consulting with an experienced family law attorney NOW. The sooner you can get your individual matter entered into the court’s queue, or the sooner you begin some form of alternative dispute resolution process (e.g. mediation), the sooner you are likely to reach resolution.
A few considerations for those who have already begun the process:
As employers are forced to lay off employees and businesses unfortunately close, household incomes will invariably be affected. As a result, financial documents may need to be updated.
If you own a home or other real estate, your property values may have changed and a new appraisal may be needed as real property sales may have stalled for the moment. Uncertainty in the job market may also have a long-term impact on the value of your home or other real estate and the new value will be an important factor to consider in your divorce strategy.
If you already have a settlement agreement, you may want to consider exploring the possibility for revision based upon the situation at hand. Monthly incomes may have decreased and the value of your 401K may have declined substantially. Check your settlement agreement and see what, if any, procedures are required for modifications.
Probably the most pressing issue at the moment will be related to child custody. Custody issues during divorce are already challenging, but given the fact your children’s lives have been as upended and disrupted by the pandemic as yours only makes the situation more complicated. Children whose parents are getting divorce generally look to the structure of school and camp to provide stability during a difficult time of transition. Yet, with schools and camps closed for the foreseeable future, parents must be prepared to be creative in solving child custody issues. Specifically, child custody and time sharing arrangements are something you can address right now with the other parent. You should consider each possible custody scenario and arrangement going forward to determine what is presently in your children’s interests. Who will take care of the children if schools remain closed and there are no summer camps or daycare facilities open but one or both parents must return to work? Can you and the other parent effectively communicate and work together to co-parent during these difficult times or have custody issues become an emergency that you can ask the courts to address immediately?
While you will not likely be able to solve all of the pending issues related to your divorce immediately, you can certainly proceed with your divorce by video conferencing with your attorney and other related professionals including divorce coaches, financial analysts, parent coordinators and accountants. And if divorce or custody litigation is necessary for whatever reason, you may lose valuable time if you do not start that process now.
Use the time you have right now to prepare for your divorce by gathering necessary financial information and property appraisals, consulting with your experienced family law attorney to discuss the option of whether to file suit or begin the negotiations necessary for an effective alternative dispute resolution process.
It is never a good idea to make rushed decisions just for the sake of being divorced. Yet, you can take advantage of this unplanned delay caused by the closure of the courts, and the world in general, to take a pause and gather the concrete information you need to move forward and settle financial and personal issues. Our seasoned divorce counsel know how to help you during these complex times. Their years of experience and sage advice can help you regain control of this process. Please contact the office of Shulman Rogers if one of our family law professionals can assist you.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. If you think you have a legitimate reason to deviate from your regular custody practice or current court custody orders, or if you are facing a custody refusal, please discuss your situation with a member of our experienced and respected Shulman Rogers Divorce and Family Law Group.