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Getting a Divorce During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Woman sitting on couch doing a computer video phone call with her attorney to discuss divorce
By Jaclyn Rainey on April 03, 2020 7:56 AM

Divorce is complicated, even in the best of times. But when outside forces like a pandemic or natural disaster come into play, the rules surrounding the typical legal process can change.

The COVID-19 virus has caused many courts to shut down and cases to be put on hold. You need to pay attention to your state's current coronavirus laws to know:

  • If you can leave your house for a court date or hearing
  • If divorce or court proceedings are considered "essential business"
  • How your local court is handling the pandemic
  • Whether your trial or court date is being rescheduled
  • If virtual meetings or mediation is possible

Note: Some courts in states with fewer reported cases of the virus are staying open at this time. You can see the status of various federal court orders on us.courts.gov.

Can Divorces Move Forward? Are All Divorces Stalled?

This ultimately depends on the current rules in your city, county, or state. If there are no court closures, then your case will proceed as normal.

Many attorneys are keeping their law firms open but working from home at this time. So, it's important to check with your lawyer about modified hours or deadlines. Also, check whether you can still meet with your attorney through a video call.

What Happens to Divorces During Stay-At-Home or Shelter-in-Place Orders?

During a stay-at-home order, many divorce hearings will be rescheduled for a future date. 

Some states allow people to "appear" in court by telephone. This means you can call into your hearing rather than attend in person. Similarly, many mediators are holding telephone mediation, and attorneys are recommending virtual settlement conferences. For some people, this may be all they need to proceed with their divorce. For others, there are certain court proceedings (such as custody assessments) that will need to be completed in person and may, therefore, be put on hold.

Even if your divorce is rescheduled, your attorney may be able to keep working on your case from home while they are under stay-at-home orders or shelter-in-place orders.

Everyone Is Under More Stress — Expect Delays

If you are in a state where your divorce can move forward, you may want to consider postponing it yourself. Negotiations or mediation might be extra difficult while both spouses are stressed.

Things may also be delayed if your attorney or your spouse's attorney gets sick or cannot work as quickly from home.

What Legal Issues Might Arise That Wouldn't Arise Otherwise?

Child Custody and Support

If one parent is keeping the children full-time during self-isolation, it is possible the parent could get more child support for the time frame. Since the pandemic is full of unknowns, this type of decision may be on a case-by-case basis. Yet, all the details of your current child custody and support orders remain in effect until you ask for a modification.

If, for example, your spouse is exposed to COVID-19, but they don't agree to change your parenting plan, you may need to ask the court for an emergency order to keep your children with you. Whether a court will grant it depends on where you live and your unique circumstances.

If having your children with you longer than you are accustomed to changes your ability to work, childcare costs, income, or rent, then you may be able to get state relief or unemployment benefits.

Property Division

The volatility in the stock market can make figuring out how much money you have to divide more complicated than it would have been before the pandemic. So can one or both parents' temporary job loss. It's vital that all of your property is valued appropriately.

Resolutions to Pandemic Divorce Challenges

If you are not already in the divorce process, you may want to wait to file until the pandemic is over. With court closures, added stress, and cases piling up, there may be a delay in getting your divorce through the courts.

If your case is already in process, then speak with your attorney to understand your options. If you have been trying a DIY divorce, now may be the time to contact a local divorce lawyer to understand what is happening in the courts near you.

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