Finding a Viable Divorce Pathway During the Pandemic
Of all the things to think about during a pandemic, a divorce isn’t usually what many assume hits the top of the list. However, people are finding that life still goes on and, in some situations, divorces have to happen regardless of what else might be occurring around the world.
Legally Still Operating…
Technically divorce proceedings are still moving forward regardless of the current COVID-19 restrictions in public places and many government offices which shut down to public access. For example, in California and in the Bay Area in particular, divorce filings are still occurring with much of the paperwork handled digitally or by drop off versus interaction. Meetings and hearings are taking far more advantage of digital tools, as well. If divorcing spouses are able to adapt to the changes and adjustments, a divorce is very achievable.
…But Things are a Lot Slower
The timeline of a divorce case these days depends on the complexity of the case in general, but overall cases are taking longer. Even before COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., many of the court systems were running into constraints and limited resources. Family law was no exception. When California started issuing restrictions to block off public meetings and shelter in place, things slowed down significantly. Digital filings, on the other hand, ramped up, but the in-person hearings are, for the most part, hamstrung.
Get the Paperwork Out of the Way
Given the current circumstances, most of the preliminary filings can be taken care of easily with digital filings. These steps are necessary in a divorce, and electronic filing keeps things moving along. Common examples include the initial Petition for Dissolution, initial case filings, and Requests for Orders (child custody, child support, spousal support). Emergency Orders move at a quicker pace. Personal service of the documents can be handled as well so that the other spouse is formally noticed about the divorce proceedings.
Tough Issues Will be Delayed
Difficulties are definitely going to be experienced in more complex matters such as property hearings and complex custodial proceedings. Many of the hearings for initial child support and custody will get priority in family law, but the actual hearing dates have been delayed in a number of court systems. The courts are starting to hear these matters through Zoom now that there is more technological capacity in the court system to do so.
Alternative Channels Offer More Control
There are alternative approaches to divorce proceedings that can move the case forward much faster. These include Collaborative Divorce and Mediation. The divorce will still be completed and its terms binding, and the parties avoid the COVID-19 jam-up in the court system occurring right now. However, it requires that both spouses are willing to use an alternative process option versus traditional litigation-oriented divorce proceedings. These alternative methods, with proactive cooperation, can see completion of the divorce process as quickly as six to nine months, which is far shorter than traditional court proceeding timelines even before the pandemic.