divorce and coronavirus covid 19

How COVID-19 Affects Divorce, Child Custody, And Support Payments?

Goldberg Jones Divorce, Divorce Process, Featured Posts Leave a Comment

JUMP TO TOPICS:
How Does COVID-19 Affect Divorce?
Are Courts Still Open?
Are Parenting Plans Still Enforceable?
What If You’re Behind On Support Payments?
If You Lose Your Job Due To COVID Can You Get A Support Modification?
Long-Distance Co-Parenting
Questions From The Radio

Goldberg Jones remains open during the COVID-19 outbreak. We have been and will continue to be here to help with any and all family law needs.

During this uncertain, often-changing time, we understand our services are essential to our clients and stand committed to addressing everyone’s needs and making those we represent as comfortable as possible.

We offer both in-person meetings as well as remote options, and strive to maintain a clean, safe office environment.

We have received many questions from our clientele that we want to share in the form of an FAQ below:

How Does COVID-19 Affect Divorce?

There have already been significant changes that affect the divorce and family law process thanks to COVID-19. With temporary court closures at times, focus shifted to alternative methods of dispute resolution such as mediation and binding arbitration. These are tools that have already been very effective in resolving cases short of trial but proved even more valuable.

Are Courts Still Open?

Despite changes and new hurdles to clear, the courts also remain in service as they are essential. Due to factors like spiking cases and new variants, they have operated at a limited capacity at times. With this, as well as a significant backlog of cases, things may take longer than usual. Rest assured, however, that the courts are still open.

You can proceed with a divorce, settling custody disputes, modifications, and other cases. It may look different, it may take more time, and you may use other tools along the way, but you can still accomplish your goals.

Related Reading: Is Arbitration the Right Choice?

Are divorces taking longer due to COVID-19?

One of the biggest change was the court’s lack of ability to resolve temporary issues. Dealing with the logjam of cases has lead to delays. This also affects trials, though there are other ways to address this. Especially as most divorces are resolved before going to trial.

This also serves to highlight the benefit of alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation and arbitration. These methods are already proven to be less costly and more efficient ways of resolving issues in most cases.

Related Reading: Common Mediation Questions Answered

Are Parenting Plans Still Enforecable?

The short answer is: Yes. There have been no changes to the enforceability of your current parenting plan or custody order because of the COVID-19.

However, there will definitely be other issues to contend with. Changing circumstances affects whether or not schools are in session, travel, and other areas. We have seen, and likely will continues to see unusual issues arise during this time.

We urge parents to do their best to be flexible and work together. Ultimately, now is a time for both parents to try to work together in addressing the best interests of their children.

As always, the best interests of the child or children take precedence over other concerns. But as long as it’s safe, it’s best to keep as close to the original custody schedule as possible.

Related Reading: Legal Marijuana and Child Custody

What If You’re Behind On Support Payments?

If you’re behind on your child support payments, the Washington Division of Child Support must, by law, certify past due child support debts to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement for enforcement.

Even when behind on payments, if COVID-19 caused the delay in payment, you still have the right to argue for modification. Again, you have to show the impact. Demonstrate how the pandemic led to unforeseen and continuing financial devastation. This may serve as evidence to support your claims.

As usual, this remains a difficult path to take. Even if you can show a significant change in financial standing, the court may not allow a modification.

Related Reading: Child Support Modification: How To Change A Support Order

If You Lose Your Job Due To COVID-19 Can You Get A Support Modification?

We field a lot of questions about child support and spousal maintenance. Support payments often strain finances in the best of times.

Right now, many people find it difficult to make ends meet, let alone make these court-ordered payments. Many people lost jobs or took severe cuts to pay or hours. But how does the loss of job or income affect your obligations?

The good news is that a significant drop in your finances due to COVID-19 may show the need to modify an existing support agreement. The bad news is that you face an uphill battle.

Yes, it is possible to modify child and spousal support obligations. However, there’s no guarantee of how a judge will rule. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

If both parties are on good terms, you can try to settle outside of court. If that isn’t an option, the next step is to file a motion to modify the support order with the local court.

Even now, as things have opened up, courts in some areas remain limited. This may mean cases take much longer.

What Type Of Evidence Is Required?

Timing is important. COVID-19 remains an open-ended battle. Though things keep moving in the right direction, there’s no saying how much longer we will feel its impact.

Presenting evidence makes a big difference. When looking to modify a child support or spousal maintenance order, you have to show your work.

Loss of employment or income due to COVID-19 is the starting point. Document everything, right away. This helps build a stronger case to present to the court. A judge will want to see that this was unintentional and out of your control.

Additionally, take steps to alleviate the loss of income. Seek out other jobs or take advantage of unemployment benefits or emergency relief. Again, track all of your efforts. This demonstrates a good faith effort to find new income.

Review Your existing support order

It’s always a good idea to take a close look at your existing support order. Many divorcing couples settle support obligations outside of court and maintain them by a separation agreement rather than a court order.

These agreements often contain a material change clause. This allows you to review payments in the event of a change in circumstances.

It may include a protocol for modification requests for situations like the loss of a job. In general, it’s a good idea to be well acquainted with these documents.

Related Reading: Child Support Modification: How To Change A Support Order

Long-Distance Co-Parenting and COVID-19

Co-parenting after divorce comes with its own set of challenges. Maintaining a sense of connection with your kids is even more difficult as a long-distance parent. The current impact of COVID-19 only adds additional layers of stress.

Travelling to see your children presents potential dangers. The same goes for situations where your kids travel to you.

Still, though seeing your children has become more difficult, you have various ways to stay connected.

Communication Methods

Since long-distance parents often aren’t able to see their kids as often as they want, other forms of communication play an important role.

Fortunately, there are many ways to communicate and connect. Try setting up FaceTime or Zoom calls on specific dates and times. It may not be as good as in-person visits, but they benefit from seeing your face. And you from seeing theirs.

If video chats aren’t an option, regular phone calls and texts are also good alternatives. Just make sure you don’t overstep any bounds in the parenting plan. It’s still important to play by the rules and avoid any unnecessary tension between you and the other parent.

This gives your kids, and you, something to look forward to. Regular chats also build a routine and help establish a sense of normalcy that often alleviates anxiety. Everyone needs that right now, especially your kids.

Sticking to the parenting arrangement, even virtually, also benefits any future custody cases. Taking advantage of your scheduled time with the kids demonstrates your desire to remain an involved parent. That reflects well on any claim you make down the road.

Most of all, it’s important to keep the lines of communication as open as possible.

Related Reading:  Co-Parenting Strategies For Divorced Parents


Questions From The Radio

Rick Jones, one of our founding partners, regularly appears on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show, where he addresses family law questions from listeners. Even during a pandemic. As is easy to imagine, many people want to know about the impact of COVID-19.

One recent caller says his ex-wife wants to send the kids back to school, but he wants to keep them learning at home. What options does he have?

FIRST CALL

Caller: “I got divorced from my wife and we share custody. But she has primary custody because the kids are with her during the week and I have them on the weekend. I’m very involved, and usually, we share all the parental decisions 50/50. There is a situation we can’t agree on. My kid’s school is offering that they can come back to school next month, two to three days [a week].

“My wife thinks it’s ok for them to go back to school, but I would like them to continue with remote learning. If we can’t see eye to eye on this, is there anything I can do with the courts so I have a say in this decision? Or is it strictly hers because they go to school during the week when she has them?”

Rick: “It is a joint decision. That’s per your parenting plan, where it already says, ‘Joint decision making regarding education,’ as 95% of parenting plans do. There are two steps. The court you asked about is your second step.

“The first step is going to be required mediation. Take a look at your parenting plan. You’re going to see Section 5, which is several pages deep, but it’s going to talk about alternative dispute resolution.

“It’s going to say: if there are any disputes that can’t be resolved on the parenting plan, the two of you agreed to mediation. So what you want to do is get on the stick right away because you’re reaching a deadline.

“You want to invoke the mediation clause saying, ‘Hey, we don’t have a joint agreement so we’re required to mediate.’ She’s going to do one of two things. She’s going to agree with you and say, ‘Okay, great, let’s go ahead and mediate this problem because I don’t agree with remote learning.’

“If she does that and you go through the mediation, and either settle the case or you’re still at a stand-still, then the courtroom door is open to you.

“Here’s the other possibility though. She may very well, after hearing you invoke this mediation clause, tell you to go pound sand. If she does that, then great. Because now you don’t have to wait to schedule a mediation you can get into court right away. Along with that is the explanation of, ‘Hey, I actually tried to stay out of court. I invoked the mediation clause and she wouldn’t even play nice.’

“It just helps. The court is still going to make rulings on the facts, but at the same time, they’re going to be pretty annoyed with her. So that’s the steps you need to follow, just invoke your mediation clause.”

Related Reading: Co-Parenting Strategies for Divorced Parents


SECOND CALL

Caller: “My marriage was in pretty rough shape before [quarantine]. But the added stress of not being able to get away from each other has completely pushed things over the edge…I’ve thought about [divorce] many times over the years, but I really need to follow through on filing for divorce for my own sanity. Is it even possible? Is it an essential business? Are the courts open?”

Rick: “Yes, I’m glad you asked that, too, because I want to clarify for everybody else. The continuation of our legal system and the enforcement of court orders that are already in place is absolutely essential.

“The county courts in the Puget Sound area remain open, to an extent. Almost everything being telephonic. And it’s limited to things that are considered emergent. So, it does have one hand tied behind its back a little bit, but it is operational.

“And, as a matter of fact, Goldberg Jones does remain open as an essential business.”

Can She File for Divorce?

Rick: “To get to the specifics of your question: yes, the court system is allowing case filings, initial case filings.

“What’s important about that, before I dive into your situation even more specifically, is, even in circumstances where it may be uncontested—in other words, there’s nothing urgent about it—the fact that you can file a case means that the clock starts ticking.

“So, if you’re able to reach an agreement, or have an agreement already, and be done by the end of the waiting period, 90 days [in Washington], well, you’ve started that clock ticking and each day that goes by, you’re that much closer.

“The courts are also allowing agreed finalizations of divorce right now.

“Now, beyond that. Let’s say that you’ve got a contested case, that there is no agreement. If the two of you are able to peacefully coexist, then it really kind of stops at the filing. The court system—again, because they’ve limited to emergent [cases]—they’re not trying to address, or don’t have the means to address, anything that doesn’t involve somebody’s personal safety or a child’s significant well-being.

“If, however, your circumstance is a little bit more challenging, and you are either in fear for your own safety, or there’s maybe a history of domestic violence, or you’re in fear for the safety of your children, that’s when the courtroom door is open for things like emergency restraining orders.”

[This article has been and will continue to be updated with the most current information available.]

Related Reading: How To File For Divorce In Washington State

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