WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT YOUR DIVORCE DURING THE PANDEMIC
There are many of us that are frustrated for a number of reasons during the community shut-downs that have happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not the least of those frustrations, are the negative impacts the closures of the courts, and the delays in court proceedings, are having on people who were already in the midst of the divorce process and those that have decided that it is time to file for divorce.
The frustration blankets the entire legal process. Everyone is frustrated by their hands being tied by a poorly defined enemy and the lack of any certainty of when and how the courts will reopen to the public and return fully to processing cases.
Law firm clients and other litigants simply want understanding of their circumstances and the advocacy needed for action to be taken on their case. They need their problems solved! The courts are trying to attend to health and safety issues of the public while also trying to balance the very hefty burden of sustaining the accessibility and integrity of the courts.
Attorneys are kind of caught in the middle with being both officers of the court and the ultimate advocate for their client’s legal concerns. Our frustrations are high because of the limitations being put on us as we are trying to serve our clients, protect them, and provide quality legal representation.
Here are some tips to help you get through this process in the meantime:
1. Take some comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your frustration or circumstances.
This pandemic has been a great equalizer. No one’s life is untouched. The opposing party in your case is very likely encountering the same obstacles that you are.
2. Know that most attorneys are still working.
Legal services are considered ‘essential’ and most law firms have continued to function. Of course, we have had to change the way we are interacting with clients, and with each other. But the nature of our work allows us to be productive, despite current-day limitations.
3. Be receptive to telephone and email contact with your attorney.
No, they are not ideal forms of communication but, again, they can be very productive. Just remember that you still get charged attorney fees, no matter how you are communicating with your lawyer.
4. Take advantage of video conferencing opportunities.
This applies to discussions with your attorney, contact with your spouse and kids, and even as a forum for settlement conferences, mediation, and arbitration. If you are just starting to select an attorney, seek out someone who can use video conferencing to your advantage.
5. Start thinking outside of the box.
Do this in trying to manage relationships with your (ex)spouse and kids for sure. But also be receptive to different ideas your attorney suggests for getting over impasses and reaching a resolution in your case.
6. Diligently follow any existing court orders.
When you do have your day in court, you want to be able to justify your actions and it is nearly impossible to justify violating a court order and maintain your integrity with the court.
7. Keep fastidious records.
Keep records of everything, just in case you need it later. Yes, that means everything, including text message exchanges, emails, copies of checks and records of payments or deposits, receipts for expenditures, visitation calendars, etc. Remember, your spouse will probably be keeping records too. Don’t do or say anything you do not want to see documented later.
8. Be a good parent.
Go the extra mile to get your kids through this troubled time. Spend time on school work and keeping them productively occupied. Stick to a reasonable schedule and hold them to reasonable behavioral expectations. Be attentive to health and safety issues. If you are not sheltering in place with your children, find new and creative ways to interact with your kids from a distance. Use video options for spending time with them, reading together, playing games, and sharing experiences. Reassure them that you love them and are anxious to spend time with them again.
9. Be patient and understanding.
It may be the biggest challenge that is facing us all when we feel so out-of-control of our own lives. But, though we cannot control the pandemic, we certainly can control our response to the circumstances we have been thrust into. It is simply the right thing to do. But, either way, there is a good chance your actions now will be judged later, when your legal case moves forward.
10. Plan and prepare now for when you do get your day in court.
Don’t be lazy and procrastinate. Find an attorney now and start the administrative process. Provide any and all documentation, declarations, responses to discovery, whatever your attorney or the court has requested from you. Do it without delay.
11. Agree on as much as possible.
Now is a good time to circumvent the court and negotiate, compromise and/or agree on as many issues as possible. Use the help of your attorney or a mediator to eliminate the need for court intervention on your case. Many courts are still approving and entering agreed orders. You will certainly be able to have an agreed order entered, or resolution of your case achieved, long before you will get a trial date.
12. Stay positive and proactive.
Know that the entire legal system is aware of the negative legal implications of the court delays and business slow down. Your attorney especially, is anxious to do everything possible to keep your case moving and implementing their strategy for achieving your goals. Do advocate for yourself. But remember your attorney is on your side. Work together in a positive and productive way to meet your common goals.
13. Stay safe.
The court is dealing immediately with emergency situations involving domestic violence. Of course, law enforcement and community service organizations remain available to the public. Attorneys can also take immediate action to file enforceable protection orders on your behalf. Do not delay and leave yourself at risk.
14. Ask the questions.
Don’t assume you have to wait for answers. The best way to get an answer to your question is to ask your attorney. If you don’t have an attorney yet, many firms offer free consults in order to help you choose who to work with. If you are not planning to hire an attorney, there are still plenty of public resources available by picking up the telephone or looking online.
15. Look out for yourself.
We highly encourage legal representation, in most every case. But, whether you are represented or not, you should always be your own advocate. Be mindful of your own best interests and protective of them. We all know how many different levels of our lives that can apply to right now. The answers to, “what is the right thing to do?” may not always be the obvious. Be thoughtful and purposeful.
Many of the challenges we are all facing are unique to this time in history, the pandemic. While there are a lot of unknowns, we do know that the legal system is constitutionally protected and an integral part of our democratic system.
The courts will resume their service to the public. But, like many other functions of our lives, we should also assume that the return to normalcy will come in stages and with some new operational rules.
For more information on dealing with divorce during the coronavirus, check out our COVID-19 page.
Be prepared. There will be a backup of cases and very likely a more convoluted process to work through. The log-jam will start to break apart but it may not be pretty and it will not be quick.