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Divorce During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is resulting in a surge of divorces. This seems to be consistent with past pandemics. A study in Hong Kong found that a year after the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, 2004 divorces in that city were 21 percent higher than 2002 levels, Bloomberg News reported.

While there is a multitude of reasons for filing for divorce, here are some considerations:

  1. Administrative Delays

California Courts are accepting filings but this does not mean your matter and case will be heard immediately. To start the divorce process, you must file the Summons and Petition. If you have children, you may file a Request for Order for temporary child custody and child support orders concurrently with your Summons and Petition. The pandemic has caused many matters that were on calendar from mid-March to June 10, 2020 to be moved to later dates. This means that Court calendars are full with matters that would have otherwise been heard months ago. Thus, new filings are being set to end of August and even early October. What this means is that you are unlikely to go to Court or seek Court intervention to settle the issue of Custody and Support within a month of your filing.

However, you can find ways to settle with your spouse. Perhaps, you can explore the options of a step-up child custody plan. It is important now more than ever to attempt to amicably settle issues of custody. You should not refuse to let their spouse be near the children or see the children during this time. Any behavior that may be later classified as “gatekeeping” will only hurt your child and the eventual custody order.

  1. Your Financials

The pandemic is forcing us to rapidly adapt to a new way of living. Most of us have had to adapt to working from home. Some of us have unfortunately been furloughed. With the announcement that the United States is heading into a Recession, it is likely that most people’s financial lives will change even further.

If your or your spouse have lost a job or have limited employment options, this may affect issues of both spousal and child support and paying the household bills. Parties remain responsible for their community property debt and obligations. The pandemic is not an excuse to not pay your bills. Here, it is crucial that parties try to not to incur any debts post separation. Parties should communicate how they will manage their community property debt moving forward

  1. Your Family Residence

In some instances, parties sell the family residence. This may be challenging given the current housing market. Here, it is important to rethink whether you want to exercise the option of selling the home. You may also want to explore refinancing the home if your spouse is in agreement.

  1. Organization of Financial Documents

One silver lining is that you are able to take this time to organize all the financial paperwork needed. Parties must exchange the Schedule of Assets and Debts and Preliminary Documents of Disclosures within 60 days of filing their divorce papers. These Disclosures are often delayed if parties are unable to obtain the appropriate documents. It is absolutely critical that parties obtain statements reflecting date of separation balances, deeds, trusts, loan documents, and other financial information that will be needed in characterizing and diving assets. The more organized and prepared you are, the less of a delay there will be.

  1. Be sure to Actually Separate

Family Code 70 provides that parties must express an intent to separate and act in accordance with that intent. Although moving out is not necessary to prove separation, most people pre-pandemic chose to move out of the family residence. This is not likely to be an option during a pandemic.

Clearly tell your partner you wish to separate.Realize that if you decide to seek martial counseling or work on your marriage after this talk, you have failed to act in accordance with the intent to separate. Date of Separation is crucial when characterizing whether an asset or a debt was purchased before, during, or after marriage. This can change how much debt and which asset is assigned to you at the time of dissolution.

            As a result of the pandemic, parties and attorneys must seek creative means to settle issues. The more issues parties can settle prior going to Court, the more money and time they will save.

            However, this may not be possible for certain cases. In cases involving domestic violence or cases where a monitor is required for visitation, it is likely that a collaborate approach will not only be ineffective but also dangerous for the children and the spouse who is a victim of domestic violence.

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