COVID-19 AND DIVORCE: What comes next? what happens with custody? do I have to pay support if i lose my job?
April 7, 2020
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Cooperation is Key in Time of Uncertainty
It feels like the world has shut down, and we don’t know what will come next. If you are in the midst of a family transition, like divorce, the situation may feel even more uncertain. Sheltering in place at home may not feel like shelter. Custody exchanges that once were amicable, now may be contentious and fraught with fear of transmission of a deadly virus. Children are scared, as well as parents. If you are receiving and/or paying support, you may be wondering what will happen if you are furloughed or lose a job. So how do your concerns get answered.? There is much information circulating and it should be read with care. With respect to your questions and your matters the answer may be … It depends. Let’s discuss further…Should I file for Divorce now?
Beth and John live together in the same house, but for the past six months have been sleeping in separate bedrooms. They don’t eat meals together and speak only when necessary. She has been wanting to file for divorce but was waiting until their son graduated from high school this June. Now their son’s school is closed, and graduation may be cancelled. She doesn’t think she can continue another day in her situation.
Is this you? Have you been unhappy in your marriage, and considering filing for divorce? Is now the best time to file that Divorce Complaint? Perhaps not. The world is changing daily and we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. At a time of uncertainty, stability is important. Do you know how much you depend upon the institution of marriage for emotional support? However, if your marriage is beyond saving, if sheltering at home is not feeling like a safe harbor, and if the time has shown beyond any shadow of doubt that you want out, then perhaps now is the time to file. The date that a complaint is filed triggers many legal things, that will affect a divorcing couple, and could be to the advantage of the filer. For example, the filing date begins the tolling period for when a final divorce can issue, it begins the unassailable date of separation, which is important for determining things like division of assets, and it can begin the right to receive spousal support.
So, what to do now should include a careful weighing of the situation, a discussion between client and attorney, and a prudent review of the most recent investment and retirement fund statements.I Filed for Divorce and Everything is “on Hold”…. What should I do?
The Courts in almost every jurisdiction are closed for everything except Emergency Proceedings. No matter how much your divorce may feel like an emergency to you, it is not.
Once things settle down and the courts re-open, there will be a huge backup. Matters likely will be triaged, as in a hospital. Cases will be scheduled based upon filing dates, but times may be allocated upon need. Judges will feel pressed to get through their calendars, and their attention will be in demand. Thus, now is an excellent time to opt for alternative ways to resolve your matter. Mediation, which puts YOU –instead of a judge- in the driver’s seat, looks better than ever in the time of COVID-19. With Mediation, you can work with a neutral Mediator to structure settlements that each party finds just and reasonable. The Mediation sessions (which can be done through video-conference) can be a productive time to work through issues and talk about what feels fair and right. Mediation can open a door for healing and moving forward with equanimity. Particularly now when you may be re-thinking what is essential, in life, you and your spouse may be more open to recognizing what is important. With the help of a skilled mediator you can seize this opportunity to draft your own resolutions, and move forward in a secure, fair and respectful way.You Don’t Want to Share Custody Right Now… What are the options?
Mary feels that her ex-husband, Tom, is not taking social distancing seriously enough. He allows his girlfriend, a nurse, to come over and also bring her children Alex (7), and Samantha (13) to his house when Mary’s and Tom’s daughter, Bethany is in his custody. Mary feels this is not safe. It puts Samantha at risk, and also Mary when Sam returns home to Mary’s house.
More and more we are hearing about these conflicts and claims that parents are confused about whether they must adhere to court ordered custody schedules in the time of COVID-19. While on the one hand the virus itself is no excuse for a parent to be denied visits or custody, it also could be a reasonable basis to not adhere strictly to orders that were put in place pre-virus. Circumstances differ and the question about how to share custody may have to be determined case by case. Now, more than ever, is a time for essential cooperative co-parenting that puts the safety and security of children first. The safety of parents, siblings, extended families, and communities also must be considered. If custody transfers involve travel, stops at gas stations, or even time with grandparents, such arrangements no longer may be acceptable. Court Orders put in place before the pandemic did not consider such things. What just a few weeks ago was reasonable, today may be dangerous. On the other hand, if reasonable safety precautions are in place and parents consult with each other about their levels of comfort, the invisible threat should not be an excuse to deny custody.Embrace Cooperation — Opt for Mediation to Resolve Disputes in the Time of COVID-19
Cooperation is key in this time of uncertainty. Optimally, parents will be talking with each other and working together toward the common good. However, if some need additional help communicating, alternative forms of dispute resolution are available. As mentioned earlier, Mediation now more than ever, can be your solution. With the aid of Mediator, parents can work out custody schedules and disputes, can come to agreements on how to revise current custody orders, and voluntarily work out child support and spousal support plans. While it may be OK to file for modifications of custody or support, realistically, it may take months before your case will be heard. Waiting for a court decide may be frustrating and fruitless. So, we encourage Mediation for those willing to give it a try. Particularly in this time of fear, which comes from the lack of control over an invisible force, taking control of your situation — either through direct communication with your spouse or with the assistance of a skilled neutral facilitator– can embolden you, and restore a sense of power and some calm.
Stay well …stay safe, stay healthy..
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