There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic is stressful. It has brought with it the loss of jobs and income, healthcare concerns, boredom, a loss of social lives, and interaction, together with a huge increase in family time together. For couples who were already having problems but coping by finding outlets outside the home, the relationship stress has been enormous. For these couples, being locked-down has caused many to face the state of their marriage. For these couples, divorce can’t come soon enough.
Attorneys Are Reporting Increasing Calls From Divorce Clients
For many attorneys, the pandemic has brought a decrease in work-load. Transactional attorneys in particular, report less work as businesses are either closed or have scaled down, allowing some legal work to wait until the pandemic is over.
In contrast, divorce attorneys in California are reporting an increase in calls from prospective clients looking to initiate divorce proceedings. Many of these clients are ready to file for divorce immediately. Faced with the ongoing pandemic, troubled couples are looking to end their troubled marriages.
Not All Courts Are Open During The Pandemic
The problem is that many courtrooms are closed or open for limited hours. There are significant delays and backlogs. Not all matters are being heard at present. California divorce courts are open for some essential matters such as restraining orders in matters of domestic abuse. New divorces can be filed if the court is open, but resolutions and final decrees take a while.
Other courtrooms are starting to use video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or other telephone conferencing systems for hearings. Many courts encourage parties to attend hearings via telephone or zoom when possible. This is allowing some courts to open safely.
Other courts are allowing some matters to be heard via Zoom, but other, more weighty matters, such as trials to be heard only in person. This has created a backlog of matters on many court dockets.
Some courtrooms in counties with fewer cases have resumed in-person hearings on a limited basis observing social distancing and wearing masks. Because pandemic case numbers fluctuate, courts have had to become more fluid, postponing matters when needed.
You Can Still File, But Your Divorce May Take a While
Most courts are still accepting filings, but are slow to act on them. Fewer court staff members are working in person, so processing matters just takes longer. Most courts have fewer hearings and those that are conducting hearings, want to ensure that critical matters are being heard first. A divorce that may normally take a year, now may take two. The shortest length of time it can take to get a divorce in California is six months, but in the time of Covid, it is unlikely that we will see six-month divorces for some time.
That does not mean that divorce clients should delay filing. In part, a couple’s need to file depends on their circumstances. When clients are clear that divorce is the answer for them, even with the inherent delays at present, there seems to be no good reason to delay filing. Waiting until the pandemic is over will put a couple at the end of a long line of people who will have waited as well.
When safety is a concern, it is imperative to file now. When other stressors are prevalent, the number of domestic abuse cases also rises. These cases tend to be heard more quickly at present.
For couples with large debt issues, filing sooner can mean limiting their exposure to their partner’s debt. Once one spouse files, they will no longer be liable for their spouse’s later acquired debt. This can be a consideration in choosing to file early.
Consider Mediation as the Pandemic Delays Your Divorce
Divorce clients who can work through their issues to arrive at an agreement regarding such things as custody, support, and the division of property are at a distinct advantage in this time of limited court availability. The fewer hearings that are required, the more quickly a matter will be concluded.
Anyone filing for divorce during the pandemic will have to be patient. Courts will reopen eventually. In the interim, mediation is one tool that couples may use to resolve as many issues as possible while they wait. The more issues they can agree upon, the more closure a couple may feel even while waiting for a final decree.