Navigating Divorce During Coronavirus
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but perhaps the opposite is true of couples in quarantine together. COVID-19 has not necessarily been kind to the couples of the world. Quarantine has added financial and emotional stress to already fragile relationships and pushed some confined couples to a breaking point.
According to a recent Bloomberg Report, the virus’s origin country is already seeing historically high divorce rates with one Shanghai divorce lawyer reporting a 25% increase in his case load reportedly increasing by 25% since lockdown.
At Collins Family & Elder Law Group, divorce is not something taken lightly. We understand that families have been affected in every way by the coronavirus and that not being able to proceed with your divorce amid the lockdown brings added heartache and frustration to your life. Below, we provide potential solutions to the legal obstacles you may be facing, to help you navigate your divorce despite the limitations inflicted by a global pandemic.
Courthouse Closures and Subsequent Backlogs
Divorce litigation is contingent upon the court system, but courthouses across the country are just now reopening after being closed in response to the pandemic in order to protect patrons. Fortunately, technologically adaptable courthouses have been able to adopt video chat in lieu of in-person hearings. If your local courthouse has shut down and has not yet been able to adapt to technology, there’s a good chance of a long backlog upon reopening. (You can check here to see if your courthouse is open and/or operating.)
In such a case, you may consider mediation, also known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or collaborative law, which is a less-formal and more cost-effective divorce negotiation with your spouse mediated by your attorney outside of court. Alternative dispute resolution allows you to bypass the court system and streamline your divorce. It takes a gentler approach to preserve family relationships and both parties are required to cooperate, using a problem-solving mindset.
A family law attorney can help you decide if this method of resolution is suitable for your family’s circumstances. We are willing and able to conduct these peaceful proceedings over video chat for the health and safety of all those involved. Keeping you out of court if possible is always one of our primary goals.
If you or your spouse have been laid off as a result of coronavirus and are suffering in an unsteady economic climate, divorce negotiations become even more complicated and legal fees harder to pay. Child and/or spousal support payments may need temporary adjustment to accommodate your more urgent need to pay bills.
If your family’s income has diminished significantly, talk to your spouse and one of our child support attorneys to minimize the economic impact on you and your family. We can work with you and the court to modify child and spousal support payments for the time being. For some relationships, straightforward communication and negotiation is not an option. Individuals in this situation may be able to file a motion with the court directly to modify support payments. Depending on how backlogged your courthouse is, this may not happen immediately, but you will eventually see financial relief.
In the meantime, we’d advise you to seek government benefits under the CARES Act. Work with your spouse as a partnership, if possible, to evaluate your household budget and make the best use of your combined income. Now is also an opportune time to take advantage of all the free skills courses being offered to people in quarantine and develop new skills to bolster your resume. Doing so could make it easier to find employment when the economy bounces back.
Child Health and Custody Arrangements
Now that kids are home at all hours of the day, divorced parents are not only juggling the new challenge of online learning but also the new dynamic of co-parenting arrangements in a time of quarantine. Local jurisdictions are encouraging parents to maintain regular parent schedules and to act in the best interests of their children, practicing good judgment and avoiding unnecessary travel wherever possible.
Be proactive and have a plan in place in the event that you or your ex gets coronavirus. This will save you worry and heartache later. You should also prepare proactively in case one of your children contracts the coronavirus. Discuss with your ex where your child will stay if this happens. Consider that, if you have multiple children, it may be wise to quarantine the sick child away from where the other children are living, and from high-risk family members. If your spouse is uncooperative, speak with one of our attorneys to find out how local regulations could impact your child custody arrangement.
If you find yourself in conflict with your spouse on matters pertaining to coronavirus, defer to your child custody agreement and review what it says on how to handle sick children or school closures. From a legal standpoint, you must honor your co-parenting agreement, even in extenuating circumstances, unless the court modifies the agreement. If you feel that it needs to be amended, bring up your concerns with your ex and speak with our attorneys.
While you may harbor animosity toward your ex-spouse, this is a critical time to put those negative feelings behind you and work together to keep your family healthy. If you are the custodial parent or if you are still living under the same roof with your spouse pending divorce, take the opportunity to invest in your kids and create positive memories for them before their household becomes two.
If you’re worried about how to keep your child healthy while maintaining a normal schedule, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts has established guidelines for mindful co-parenting throughout COVID-19.
Request Individualized Support Today
As you navigate the divorce process itself or the uncertain aftermath of a recent divorce finalization, especially during this pandemic, it is common to have extra questions and concerns along the way. Take comfort knowing that Collins Family & Elder Law Group is here for you. Call us today for one-on-one support or professional advice regarding divorce proceedings, child support and custody, or anything else pertaining to family law.