The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant changes in almost every American household, and with that comes a whole new world of family law issues. Court delays, custody challenges, financial concerns–all of these and more are making it more difficult for families to proceed with their cases successfully, regardless if it was initiated before or during the pandemic.
Understanding the effects of COVID-19 can help you navigate the unusual circumstances in your case and get it done as soon as possible. Here are the most significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on family law and how it can affect you:
Delays in court proceedings
Many family law cases can go on for months, but with the pandemic, expect that your case can take even longer than expected.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many courts were closed for weeks in compliance with government orders. As a result, cases piled up, causing delays of months, if not more, on many family law cases. Quarantine restrictions have already eased in many parts of the country and allowed courthouses to operate at a near-normal capacity, but the overwhelming amount of cases that have lined up make it impossible for courts to catch up.
Regardless if you filed the case before or after the outbreak, expect to wait for your trial longer than expected.
Increased preference for alternative dispute resolution
Waiting for months or even more to finalize your divorce may not be an option. In this case, consider asking your trusted divorce lawyer about an alternative dispute resolution instead.
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is the process of settling disputes without going to court. It is done in an informal setting with an impartial third party to facilitate the proceedings. Compared to a court divorce, ADR takes less time, is less stressful, and is usually less costly.
Due to the extreme delays in court, many couples who have opted to go to court at first are choosing to go through ADR to end their marriage. ADR meetings are tailored to fit both parties’ schedules instead of the court’s, hence, divorcing couples can make progress far easier than when taking their divorce to court.
The pandemic has presented new challenges to parents in child custody agreements. Schools and child care facilities remain closed, leaving co-parents with the burden of having to find new ways to transfer custody on schedule. On top of that, parents have to act as teachers at home while kids are learning through online classes, which is an unexpected challenge in and of itself.
If your current custody arrangement is not working for your family, contact a family lawyer as soon as possible to make the necessary modifications. Additionally, if you are going through a divorce in the middle of the pandemic, it’s best to start planning a custody arrangement as early as possible to minimize the difficulty for both your child and your spouse during the adjustment process.
COVID-19 has caused massive retrenchment and business closures, leaving millions of people without a reliable stream of income. Some employees who managed to stay employed have also faced pay cuts and fewer hours. For divorced couples, a reduction in income may make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pay child support or alimony.
If you are facing this challenge, consult with a family lawyer about modifications in child support or spousal obligations. Both can be modified when there is a change in income, allowing you to pay less without facing legal consequences or issues with your credit score. As soon as you experience a loss or a reduction of income, pursue modifications to prevent arrears from piling up.
Another financial issue for parents is the delay of stimulus checks. According to the IRS, the child bonus ($500 per child) will not arrive until this year, which means that parents who were relying on it may face further financial strain.
Rising domestic violence cases
Lockdown guidelines have caused domestic violence cases to spike worldwide. Victims are stuck at home with their abusers, the isolation making it more difficult to escape or ask for help from friends and family members. Shelters are also operating at limited capacity to prevent the spread of the virus, meaning that many victims don’t have a choice but to stay at home.
With this in mind, it is expected to see a significant rise in domestic violence lawsuits lining up in court. Unfortunately, the delays in courthouse proceedings may cause these cases to drag on, which can lead to increased danger for victims.
The pandemic will eventually end, but many family law cases can’t wait for that to happen. Understanding these impacts and consulting with a family lawyer are the best ways to help you proceed with your case efficiently.