04 May How Divorce Cases Are Adapting to COVID-19 Guidelines
The COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we know it. People were forced to stay at home while only essential workers were allowed to be out in the world. Not surprisingly, this was not the only thing that has changed in the past year and a half. Courtroom cases were also dramatically affected by the pandemic. In this article, we will go over how divorce cases are adapting to COVID-19 guidelines. There are a few particular circumstances you should be familiar with if you are in this situation.
The Difference in Filing
Typically, you have to go into the courthouse when you file for divorce. However, once the initial filing to open the matter and obtain a case number has been done, many courts are allowing people to file documents online or through the mail to practice social distancing. There are some things to keep in mind if you choose either one of these methods, though.
You must be diligent about keeping records of your paperwork and receive confirmation the court has received your documents prior to any deadlines. The post office is incredibly backed up right now. For this reason, you must pack your patience and keep track of where your papers are, noting the court will not sign for your documents upon delivery or provide you with a confirmation. This sentiment holds if you are filing online, as well. Make sure that everything is filled out correctly and that you have served the other party appropriately, regardless of the method of filing.
Welcome to the Virtual World
Like so many other industries, courtrooms embraced the virtual world when the pandemic started. In an effort to practice social distancing, judges are holding some divorce cases online. Not much is different in a virtual court case, except for the environment. Yet, there are a few special notes to keep in mind if your case is happening virtually:
- Make sure that you have a solid internet connection before your hearing starts. The last thing you want is to miss an important point because your Wi-Fi timed out.
- Ensure that your legal team has the right links so they can assist you when needed.
- Enter the virtual courtroom as early as you can in case anything goes wrong.
Frustrating Prolonged Timelines
Unfortunately, a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that everything has slowed down. Even though some jurisdictions are doing things virtually, there is still a backlog of cases. As a result, the divorce process may be extended by a few months or even years. Couples must be prepared for these prolonged timelines and take them into account when figuring out certain things. For example, one spouse typically moves out when a couple decides to get divorced. Partners should be patient with one another when finding another place to live. Apartments and houses are in short supply right now, so the partners may need to live together longer than they would have liked.
One of the most significant things that changed as a result of the pandemic is child custody. To begin, millions of children were forced to stay home because of the virus—and some still are. Since children are staying home when they would generally be at school, coparenting schedules are in disarray.
Along with chaotic coparenting schedules, parents are also worried about transferring a child between houses. The CDC still recommends social distancing. This practice is nearly impossible when a child is living in two households. For this reason, divorced or separated parents have to be patient with each other. If they do agree to transfer the child, both parents should agree on mask and vaccination mandates. If the parents cannot agree, they will have to take their conflict to court.
Now, there are some aspects of a coparenting agreement that cannot be change—primarily relocation. For example, let’s say one parent wants to move to a city where COVID-19 cases are not as rampant. Unless relocation terms are set in their coparenting plan, this is a violation, and the regular process to relocate must be followed. One parent cannot take the child out of state or far away unless their ex agrees to it. If one parent does go against the agreement, they will be in trouble with the courts. Ignoring a custody agreement can result in a permanent change of custody, or even potential contempt of court and attorney fees awarded.
United States citizens have received two stimulus payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stimulus payments are a little tricky for couples getting a divorce because the government issued the payments based on the previous year’s tax filings. So, if you filed jointly, you will receive one payment between you and your spouse.
There are a few things you can do if your former partner receives your stimulus payment. If things are not combative between you, you can simply ask for your half of the money. Conversely, if things are contentious, you can ask the judge to order that you get your half of the money. Carefully review the language in your Child Support Order and/or Parenting Plan to determine what steps should be taken to resolve the issue. Finally, keeping money from someone you are no longer married to can be considered contempt. This means you can file an order in the court for criminal charges against your former spouse if they keep your stimulus payment.
Divorce and Therapy
Couples going through a divorce and couples that have already gotten a divorce might go to mediation to resolve their issues. Not surprisingly, mediation looks different in the age of COVID-19. Like court hearings, many mediators are holding sessions online. As a result, you should check your internet connection beforehand to ensure there are no issues.
Additionally, you may find that it takes a while to get your mediation scheduled Keeping good records of attempting to resolve your issues in good faith will be helpful in resolving your issues quickly and in a healthy manner. Scheduling other things such as counseling to help manage personal issues created during the pandemic can be helpful as well. The pandemic created an increase in the need for many alternative methods of resolving conflicts. Since therapists are so backed up, it may take a while for you to get scheduled.
Hopefully, you are now more familiar with how divorce cases are adapting to COVID-19 guidelines. The piece has also touched on things you should not do during this time. The biggest change is that many things that were once done in-person are now being completed virtually. As a result, you must be prepared for any technological issues that may arise. Another key point to make is that you should pack your patience. Timelines have been prolonged, and coparenting agreements may need to be amended. All these points are hard to keep track of, so you should have a trusted lawyer by your side throughout the process. LaCoste Family Law has one of the best divorce attorneys in Washington State. We will fight for you, especially during these challenging times.