Despite all of the pain, suffering and inconvenience COVID-19 has brought upon our country and the world, some people believe there are “silver linings” that have come out of the pandemic. Since the spring, we’ve enjoyed a slower pace of life, have worked from home, and have enjoyed more down time with family. For most people, despite the circumstances, the increase in family time was appreciated. However, for couples who had already been experiencing troubled marriages, the increase in time spent together exacerbated issues that they were experiencing in their relationship. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that divorce filings have been increasing, despite significant periods of court closures.
Family Courts Closed
In many states and counties, divorce courts have only been addressing family matters of an emergent nature, such as domestic violence and child abuse. If you or someone you love are involved in an abusive relationship, and/or are concerned about safety, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help.
Despite court closures, in some areas, Zoom and other video conferencing platforms have made it easier to conduct emergency hearings. However, hearings regarding newly-filed divorces may be postponed until courts fully reopen, as these filings are not normally deemed to be “emergencies”.
The above is not an indication that people may not file for and receive a divorce. For example, if a couple is able to reach an agreement on all matters pertaining to the divorce, they need not appear in court. In addition, in a small amount of cases, where the couple is unable to agree on the terms of the divorce, mediation represents a good option. A mediator is a third-party neutral negotiator whose job it is to facilitate discussions in order to reach mutually agreeable terms for the divorce, which may then be submitted to the court for approval.
Parenting and Child Custody in Uncertain Times
Custody agreements remain in full force and effect during the pandemic. Each parent must abide by the terms of the agreement currently in place. Changes are not allowed, unless agreed to, or where the couple has gone to court and formally modified the agreement.
If the parents believe that extenuating circumstances resulting from the pandemic warrant changes to the agreement, they should keep in mind that violating a custody order can result in a finding of contempt of court. Judges may sanction, or reduce custody time of a parent who is not compliant with a custody order.