Family Law

Navigating a Family Law Proceeding During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Getting a divorce or dealing with family law matters amid the COVID-19 pandemic adds a new dynamic to an already demanding process. From teleconferencing with your attorney to co-parenting while trying to social distance, coupled with the emotional stress of moving forward with divorce or other family law proceedings can be overwhelming. To make the process even more challenging, the courts across California were closed from weeks to months leaving San Diego Superior Court alone to cancel 87,000 hearings. Even with the courts now open, there are limited services, and access to a judge is at a premium. So you’ll need to keep some important factors in mind as you move forward with the legal aspects of dissolving your marriage or other family law matters.

Delayed Divorce or Family Law Matter Timeline

It is helpful to set realistic expectations about how the backlog of hearings in the family law courts can impact your case. Litigating a divorce or family law matter can often be a lengthy legal process in the best of times. During the pandemic, it will likely take longer to get to the emotional milestone of having your matter finalized. Realize also this can add to your legal bill, so be realistic about the terms you are pushing for in your case and weigh the benefits of getting a resolution sooner rather than later. You should consider putting aside some extra cash in case there is an extended downturn in the economy and your finances are impacted by changes in your work hours or you have to change jobs. So take a deep breathe and realize the timeline for litigating your family law proceedings could be extended and that can come with additional emotional and financial costs.

Explore Faster Options

One way to avoid the likely time delays in the courts is to hire a mediator or a private judge to help you reach an agreement outside of the courtroom. Even if you have already started litigating the dissolution of your marriage or other family law matter, you can opt for some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). From temporary support to your final agreement, you can work with a mediator and only have to wait on a court date for the agreement to be finalized by a judge. Couples often report they are better able to co-parent once they have gone through this process rather than litigation.

Alternative Dispute Resolution is confidential. Using video conferencing you can keep the proceedings moving forward and get through some of the most typically time consuming parts of the case such as discovery, support, and custody issues. This process can dramatically speed up the finalization of your case in reaching a settlement and to help cut costs, but it is not a solution for everyone. This option will only save time and money if you and your estranged spouse can reasonably work together to reach a consensus and ultimately an agreement. If you can’t reach agreements on key issues with your estranged spouse, the process can actually take longer and be more expensive if you have to resort back to the courts to resolve your issues. So it is important to be clearheaded as to whether alternative solutions are a realistic option for your situation.

Refocus Your Financial Outlook

During the pandemic the stock market has fluctuated dramatically impacting stock and retirement accounts, so determining the value of these funds and the bottom line of any settlement can be difficult. The difficulty of evaluating the true value of these assets may further delay divorce proceedings. Negotiating during the economic turmoil can make the process more challenging since is it difficult to know where the economy and particularly you and your estranged spouse will land financially. Especially when the economic downturn is threatening one or both of your jobs.

Control What You Can Control

If you are looking to get a divorce now, it is essential that you get your paperwork together quickly and make sure it is organized. By thinking ahead and starting to update your financial documents, you can help your attorney move your case along much more quickly. Since court time will now be in high demand, once you have your day in court you must have all the supporting documents that the judge will want or need to see, otherwise it can be a long wait before you get another appearance before the court.

Keep Emotionally Fit

Dealing with the coronavirus brings financial and emotional stressors even without the added stress of dissolving your marriage. It can be difficult to deal with the emotional highs and lows of getting a divorce with your children at home more and with fewer opportunities for you to get a break outside of your home. It is essential that you have emotional support through friends and family and if possible through a therapist. Having the opportunity to exercise (even if that consists of long walks) can help you work through your frustrations and help you keep a healthy perspective.

Be Proactive

Talk with your attorney about what the realistic timeline looks like moving forward and the added expenses that could impact your case due to the inevitable hearing backlog. If your financial outlook has changed and you need to move through the process more quickly, you should do a cost-benefit analysis of litigating any sticking points and determine what is truly important to you. If your priorities have changed during the pandemic, have a candid discussion with your attorney about possible strategy shifts that could help you reach an agreement sooner rather than later.

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