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Divorce Procedural Changes Due to COVID-19

COVID-19 Changes Are Here to Stay

Dealing with a failing marriage can be stressful, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Family law attorneys and divorcing individuals are all scrambling to meet these unprecedented challenges. With all these changes, and divorce rates 34% higher from March to June 2020 than the same time in 2019, some of these COVID-inspired changes might become permanent in the U.S. divorce process.

The Coronavirus Crisis

Most states started to issue stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders by mid-March. These government mandates created plenty of problems for divorced parents. For those beginning the divorce process, COVID-19 closed down many courthouses and slowed court proceedings. These unprecedented times made the courts and divorce lawyers change the way that they conduct business.

Child Custody Compromises

For many divorced parents, their custody issues have been settled. However, with the threat of COVID-19, there have been issues moving children between several households. Some children have a parent who works in the medical field or as a first responder. In these cases, questions have been raised about the safety of a child living in that person’s home. Many parents are worried about the health risks of their children during these stressful times.

COVID-19 is now putting a strain on these parents. Family law attorneys have seen an increase in calls from clients who are worried about their existing parenting time orders. However, many courts have settled these issues. They are reminding parents to adhere to all court orders and parenting plans during this pandemic, and to ensure that the best interest of the children are being met.

Many parents have decided to stay out of the courts and create informal compromises. Due to several reasons, some households may not be the ideal place for children. These parents have reduced the number of physical visits with the Zoom, FaceTime or Skype platforms. With these programs, children can spend virtual time with their parents. Some parents have even forgone an overnight stay for a daytime trip to an outdoor park. COVID-19 has forced parents to engage in these unusual arrangements.

Many divorce attorneys have noticed that their clients are compromising to protect their children’s health and safety. These children already have felt the pandemic’s pain, including isolation from friends and upended school schedules. During the epidemic, many people’s priorities have shifted. Some of these goodwill gestures could extend past the current crisis as more individuals readjust their custody agreements.

Avoid Heading to Court

While most people have tried to be more accommodating throughout this health crisis, some have used this pandemic to gain an advantage in custody and parenting time issues. For example, some parents do not want their medically compromised child to visit a household that has been exposed to the virus. To change the court order, a parent may need to  get an assessment from a pediatrician. This issue will escalate to the courts, and many judges are ruling against the parent trying to make a change in custody and parenting time. While health is always a concern, many parents are taking special precautions to keep their children safe. Whether the concerns are valid or not, family lawyers are noticing that most judges are unwilling to make drastic or unreasonable changes to a custody agreement.

People who are using the pandemic to gain an advantage could be making a mistake. COVID-19 should not be used as a tool to keep the other parent away. Some family law attorneys are cautioning their clients who may want to deny access to their children. There could and should be legal consequences for these individuals. During this time, parents should rise above petty disagreements, especially when it relates to child custody issues.

As with health-related issues, money problems are also becoming a big concern for parents. Many divorced parents are more flexible about issues involving lost income or late support payments. However, when it comes to money, these issues often end up in the court system. It can be challenging to obtain alimony when the payor is out of work or furloughed from a job. In these cases, a parent will need a family lawyer’s assistance to help negotiate ways to receive these support payments. While there may be a pandemic ongoing, children still need financial support for their needs.

During the pandemic, there has been an increased willingness among exes to work out issues without heading to court. It seems like this trend may continue.

Pandemic Divorce Negotiations

In this age of COVID-19,  courts have been  limited to the number of cases they hear. In some jurisdictions, the court system has temporarily halted all divorce trials. New Jersey has not, however there has been delay. In this circumstance, the two partners are left in limbo. There is some good news, however, as courts have expanded their ability to file electronically. Some courthouses are even accepting new action filings with a click of a mouse, including New Jersey.

When COVID-19 hit the state, it automatically switched to videoconferencing for almost all court hearings. For those parties with simple divorce cases, the process has been easy. Many uncontested divorces are now handled with the help of digital signing systems and electronic affidavits. There often is no need for a video call and a divorce occurs via the mail. Since the process has been streamlined, many divorce attorneys are hoping that these new technological measures will continue.

Challenges for New Divorce Proceedings

For those who were starting the divorce process, COVID-19 has created a few bumps in the road. In some cases, there is a need for a psychological assessment of the parents and children. However, some of these evaluations cannot be conducted through videoconferencing. Real estate and stocks may need to be reevaluated since the economy has taken a hit or experienced significant gain because of the pandemic. The process of serving divorce papers has changed since many process servers are wary of getting within 6 feet of another person, but service is still being effectuated.

Despite these challenges, many divorce lawyers are adapting to the crisis. They can “meet” clients via online platforms like Zoom. Mediators create virtual rooms for each side in the divorce and even maintain multiple virtual rooms for the attorneys and other experts.

While some courthouses have the technology to sign documents electronically, there are still issues with submitting evidence. However, many judges appreciate the efficiency of these technological innovations. With the changing times, there are no excuses for clients to show up late for a court call.

Changes for the Future

Many attorneys believe that these changes will have a positive effect on the future of family law. For those parents with custody and parenting time agreements, there has been a spirit of compromise among almost all parties. Court systems and judges are now taking advantage of the latest technology to speed up the divorce process. While some of these changes may go by the wayside after the pandemic, many of them are here to stay as they change the future of the divorce process.

Need Help With a New Jersey Divorce?

Divorce and child custody issues can be difficult. You need the help of an experienced divorce attorney in New Jersey. At Lawrence Law, our legal team is ready to assist you with your divorce or custody case. From current custody agreements to new divorce proceedings, we can guide you through the process. If you would like to schedule a consultation, please call our Watchung or Red Bank office at (908) 645-1000 or email us at info@lawlawfirm.com.

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