Divorce and COVID-19
COVID-19 has created an unprecedented new reality for everyone in the country. As you curtail your activities and make personal and professional adjustments, this new reality is hard to avoid. Over the coming weeks, the pandemic will control or influence everything you do. There are no exceptions for divorce, custody, child support, visitation and other personal legal issues. Years from now you might look back and see how this moment in time changed the way we do everything and made it better. In the meantime, it’s forcing the courts to close and it has complicated even the simplest legal processes
While divorce is often emotionally trying under ordinary circumstances, our nationwide health emergency has the potential to intensify your existing stress. California Executive Order N-33-20 requires all non-essential employees and business owners to “Shelter in Place.” Although the order was implemented to protect and benefit everyone, if you’re dealing with any stage of divorce, it may produce long-term adverse consequences. Job losses, business shutdowns, and court closings will not only affect pending divorce cases, they may also create new problems with child support, spousal maintenance, visitation, and other previously resolved issues.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding your past, future or pending divorce, it’s important to stay focused and well-informed. While the courts are still determining how they will continue to function, it’s a good time to ask your attorney for advice about your divorce-related concerns. The courts are closed to most cases, but your attorney may be able to help you by using innovative remote options.
California’s Courts Are Responding to the Health Crisis
COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns are changing the way court systems operate. What began in some counties as court holidays are now temporary court closures. Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura Counties have joined jurisdictions throughout California in issuing emergency orders. They are barring public access to some employees and diminishing many attorneys’ abilities to resolve issues for their clients.
- Orange County: Initially, Courts in Orange County announced that they would close from March 17 to March 27, 2020. They updated their order on March 20, extending the closure until further notice. E-payment system will support traffic ticket payments, court filings, and case information.
- Los Angeles County: Following an initial closure and quarantine at one courthouse, most LA County clerks’ offices closed effective March 23, 2020, until further notice. The courts will open for “…time-sensitive, essential court hearings and matters…” They will provide an alternate paper process for people without digital filing capability.
- Ventura County: All Ventura County courts closed effective March 19, 2020, through April 17, 2020. All courtrooms and clerks offices will remain closed except for “…essential emergency matters and time-sensitive, essential functions…”
Except for certain emergency and criminal issues detailed in each court’s formal administrative order, courthouse closures have postponed all in-person scheduling, hearings, and filing activities. The closings are still considered holidays so courts have issued specific instructions to help attorneys and their clients avoid time-sensitive defaults.
While some court closing announcements include tentative reopening dates, others recognize that there’s no way to predict when the health crisis will end. Other than emergency situations, courts provide no divorce case alternatives. While you wait for an opportunity to initiate or finalize your divorce, here are a few important issues to consider and discuss with your divorce attorney.
Child Custody, Visitation, Support
Whether you’re in the earliest stages of a divorce or you finalized the process long ago, you must comply with court orders that ensure your child has a stable home. Court officials initially grant temporary custody to one or both parents. They order child support based on each parent’s financial ability to pay. They also order that one or both parents make provisions for their child’s education, medical insurance, child care, and other health and safety considerations.
COVID-19 is disrupting all of these norms. Schools are out. Businesses are shutting their doors. Families are losing their incomes. Whether your support order is temporary or it was finalized in your divorce decree, you are still legally responsible for complying with its terms.
With so many job losses and shuttered businesses, many custodial and non-custodial parents don’t have jobs or viable businesses. Despite having no income, non-custodial parents remain obligated to pay child support regardless of their financial circumstances. As the Los Angeles County Child Support Services reminds website visitors, the person paying support (PPS) must “…pay the child support amount in the existing order…” If you fail to pay, it could subject you to a contempt of court charge.
The court has a modification process but like many other agencies, the agency responsible is closed temporarily due to the state’s Shelter in Place order. The LA County Child Support website allows you to process your modification request online. The court must approve the modification but they base their decisions on the local support agency’s recommendations. Any request for modification must include documentation of any drastic change in your income that you believe warrants a reduction in support payments.
Child Custody and Visitation
A few short weeks ago, few families recognized the potential for COVID-19 community spread. Until the pandemic shifted to a readily recognizable danger, parents went about visitation, child care, and social activities as usual. Now that more people understand the health issues, the California Department of Public Health can’t predict when the current health crisis will end. If child custody and visitation are at issue, parents must remain reasonable and make the transition from irreconcilable differences to doing what’s best for the child.
Now that the specialists understand how easily one infected person passes the virus on to another, every parent must adhere to prevailing health and safety principles. If a child is visiting a healthy parent, prudence dictates that the child should stay where they are and Shelter in Place. Parents have a duty to comply with existing court orders, but under the current circumstances, both should consider a truce and agree to resolve custody and visitation conflicts in a way that supports the child’s best interests.
If a job or business shutdown has seriously diminished your income, California courts offer a spousal support modification process to reduce or eliminate your financial obligation. People often wait to apply for a modification, hoping that their financial situation is temporary. The court stresses that you should submit your order when you first encounter a change in your job or income status. If you lose your income now and wait to file for a modification, the request is not retroactive. If the judge grants your modification request it becomes effective as of your filing date.
You can download the forms and complete the modification request process without legal assistance. Because of the potential for error or incomplete information, the court recommends that you have a lawyer review your forms before you submit them. Your submission must include enough documentation to prove that you deserve a support reduction. Until you apply for and receive a modification order, you are legally responsible for paying the amount outlined in the existing order. As with all other non-emergency legal issues, the departments handling spousal support issues are temporarily closed.
Talk to Your Attorney
Whether or not there is a pandemic, communication with your lawyer is always important when you’re going through a divorce. If you have questions about your case or your unique circumstances, reach out to your attorney for help finding the answers.
Before you make a call, review your personal situation and make a list of your most important questions. While the courts are officially closed for most in-person activities, talk to your divorce attorneys about court-approved or recommended alternatives to keep your divorce on track.
As COVID-19 is presenting unique legal stumbling blocks, it’s up to your divorce attorneys to find new ways to manage ongoing issues. Some courts are encouraging attorneys to implement remote solutions to complete processes that usually require in-person attention. As digital access makes it possible to resolve legal issues using technology, talk to your attorney about viable digital and remote alternatives.
- Electronic court document processing and filing
- Skype-enabled consultations
- Audio conference calls
- Video settlement conferences
- Video mediations
- Physical courthouse drop boxes for “in-person” filings
Orange County Divorce Attorneys
COVID-19 has changed everything about the way you live. It doesn’t have to stop you from moving forward with your life. If you were contemplating divorce before the pandemic changed everything, you can still find the answers you need right now. The current legal climate presents difficulties for all attorneys and their clients. Fortunately, recent technological advances will provide the means to overcome even the most complex challenges.
An Orange County divorce attorney can schedule a consultation, listen to your concerns, and explain your legal options. The Shelter in Place order bars California residents from non-essential in-person activities, but consultations can be done via telephone. If you have questions about an Orange County divorce, please call Pedrick Law Group, APC at (949) 388-8682 to schedule your consultation.