Suzanne Hale Robinson
Divorce and the Coronavirus... What do we do now?
As we all struggle with the unknown of COVID-19 becoming a part of our daily lives, being informed seems to be one of the only things we have control over. Understanding the impacts COVID-19 may have on your divorce is key to having some peace of mind about the process. Although going through a divorce is already difficult on an emotional and financial level, the unknowns of COVID-19 puts an unfortunate twist on the process. No one is sure how COVID-19 will exactly affect the judicial system, but below are some questions, answers, and updates that may give a little more clarity to a very foggy situation.
The most important thing we can all remember is how imperative it is we follow the recommendations of doctors and scientists and make sure we are doing our part to ensure the impact of COVID-19 is lessened as much as possible.
I heard the courts are partially closing – what now, what if there is an emergency and I need the court’s intervention? What if I want to file for divorce?
The courts are taking COVID-19 very seriously. At this time, lawyers are getting almost daily updates on the status of the courts and how they are handling their dockets. Some courts are closed to the general public now and are only able to serve people with emergency situations. This means if you had a court appearance for your divorce in the next few weeks, it has likely been rescheduled or will be in the near future. While in some cases, this may cause your divorce to come to a total stand still, in other situations you can use this time to attempt to settle your disputes and finalize your divorce.
If an emergency arises during this time, you should immediately reach out to your attorney and get his or her advice. Your counsel will still be able to reach out to the courts and schedule telephonic hearings to resolve emergency issue.
If you find yourself in a position where you are ready to initiate the divorce process, you are still certainly able to do so. Like so many other people, the attorneys at Roth Davies are working from home and are available to help. The finalization of the process may be elongated so try to narrow down the issues as much as possible to help streamline the process.
My income is affected because of COVID-19. Can I adjust my support payments?
The economic affect COVID-19 is having on our country is no secret. Unknown numbers of people will surely be financially impacted by the fall out of the virus. If you are unable to earn an income and also owe a monthly support obligation, this can be an even more stressful situation. As courts are typically only hearing emergency issues, you likely will not be successful in getting in front of a judge to get your support obligation modified. That being said, civility may be the answer to the problem. Talking with your spouse to see if they are willing to be lenient may lead to a solution. If you are unable to communicate with him or her, reach out to your attorney and provide him or her with the information they need to help come up with an appropriate new support number. Ideally, you or your spouse can reach an agreement on a temporary basis until things settle down.
Your attorney may also file a motion to modify your support obligation inclusive of a new proposed support amount and documents reflecting your current financial situation. The motion will serve as a place holder which the judge can later use to say your new support obligation started as of the first day of the month following the filings. For example, I had a client lose her job recently who pays a monthly support obligation. I filed a motion to modify laying out the facts surrounding her job lose and her new income information. Even though we will not be able to get a hearing on the motion in the near future, when the judge is able to hear the motion, she will have the ability to make my client’s lower support obligation retroactive to the first day of the month following the filing.
What if I am sick or get COVID-19? How will that affect my parenting time?
Parenting time during a divorce is typically memorialized in temporary orders issued by the court. As with any court order, the parties, outside agreement, must follow the order. This is a hard question to answer as this is an unprecedented event, however the advice I have given my clients is to continue to follow their court order absent a recommendation by a physician. If you get a recommendation that, for example, your child is to be quarantined, you should speak with your spouse and attempt to reach an agreement. In the event that is not possible, reach out to your counsel and seek his or her advice. This may be a situation where an emergency phone hearing with the court is needed.
Bottom line, we should continue to be socially responsible and follow the guidance of doctors and scientists, but we should also be practicing understanding and graciousness. These issues will be easy for no one, so the more we can all work together, the better. Remember the attorneys at Roth Davies are here to help.