At this point during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might start to forget that it’s even still ongoing, as more people return to their jobs, go out to dinner and shop, and perform the usual “life tasks” that were normal prior to the outbreak. Unfortunately, of course, the virus is still going strong, and an even more catastrophic second wave in the coming months is becoming an increasingly more likely possibility.
During all of this, virtually all industries and businesses are feeling some form of negative impact from the struggling economy, and even government institutions are feeling the strain, including the courts necessary to handle family law cases.
While family law attorneys have been agile in adjusting their practices to include video meetings, social distancing, and implementing in-office health safety measures to help ensure client and staff safety, the legal system itself has not been able to swiftly make these same changes. With weeks/months of court closures, and a reduced number of cases being heard as the courts begin to re-open, huge backlogs of cases have been piling up all over the country, making the divorce process (and other family law matters) even more time-consuming.
Beyond the court system, the Coronavirus’ impact on family law cases can be wide-ranging, including struggles with child custody, problems with income, and more. In this article, we will discuss several of the ways in which COVID-19 is impacting family law.
Even prior to the pandemic, the courts used to determine the outcomes in family law matters were already fairly overcrowded, but after weeks of court closures (and an influx of new divorce filings which were catalyzed by the quarantine), the backlog has only gotten longer. As a result of these issues, many families are now waiting months, if not longer, for court dates to help decide their cases.
Because of these issues in the court system, some couples are turning to alternative dispute resolution options, like mediation, to help avoid the litigation process altogether. Mediation requires meetings with all parties involved and mediators, in an attempt to find an amicable resolution.
Since these meetings occur outside of a courtroom setting, individuals involved are not bound by the court’s backlogged schedule, which can allow for speedier progress. Also, the flexibility of mediation allows parties to customize the process to fit their schedules, needs, and goals. it is worth pointing out though, that most cases handled through mediation will still require a signature from an official court judge to be finalized.
While the panic during the early days of the pandemic regarding its impact on child custody has waned, there are still problems that remain. If you weren’t already aware, many courts have required that parties keep following any current custody order, despite stay-at-home orders and other government recommendations. This means that if you have a current, valid custody order, that that schedule should continue to be adhered to.
On the other hand, there are also parents who have made the decision to separate during the outbreak, and as such, are just now starting the custody process. If the custody order that is being suggested isn’t well suited for you or your family (or you still need to get one formalized), the sooner you reach out to a family law lawyer, the better things will be. During this critical time, picking the correct strategy is crucial. A lawyer can help you create the best plan possible, and also make sure to discuss other important matters, like holidays, vacations and communications.
Ex-spouses acting as co-parents face their own challenges as well. If parents are in the middle of child custody arrangements, can potentially be saddled with multiple additional burdens due to the Coronavirus. Many schools and childcare locations shut down, creating two problems:
Parents have to establish new places to transfer custody, and Parents find themselves having to act as substitute teachers, while their kids do distance learning.
Because of the pandemic’s chilling effect on the economy, countless households are enduring particularly difficult times with their finances, as millions have been laid off or furloughed, and many small and medium sized businesses have shut their doors permanently, leaving many households in a position where they can no longer afford their bills. Additionally, many retirement and investment accounts have been negatively impacted as a result of market fluctuations.
Couples that are getting ready to divide assets might want to consider how to fairly accomplish equitable distribution in light of the current volatility in the markets. It’s possible that some couples may decide to hold off on making any decisions about divorce until the market begins to stabilize to make sure that any divisions of assets are truly equitable. Experienced family law lawyers can offer a variety of possible solutions to accomplish your goals fairly.
At Ross and Andreassi, our Florida Board Certified marital & family law lawyers have been helping families overcome the difficulties of divorce for over 40 years. We will help you through the process of mediation and, if mediation is unsuccessful, through every step of finalizing your divorce so you can make smart and informed decisions for your and your children’s futures. If you're ready to transition through your divorce and into a new life, give us a call at (386) 200-9950.