The pandemic is affecting the desire for a divorce, the ability to obtain a divorce, and the issues that need to be resolved – in many different ways. A recent article in D Magazine analyzed the many different ways the pandemic is changing divorce in America.
Divorces in Texas are still being filed and resolved during the pandemic. Mediators and collaborators are still working to settle cases. It takes more time to obtain hearing dates in Texas as criminal trials have priority, and safety precautions need to be taken before cases can be heard. Many cases are being heard virtually instead of in-person.
The Texas Supreme Court states that current possession orders in divorce cases should be followed. Lawyers are being asked to keep the status quo as much as possible.
The laws on divorce, property division, child custody, alimony, and child supports haven’t changed due to the pandemic – but the needs of spouses, parents, and children have changed dramatically. A lot of the need for modifications of existing orders and the new requests for divorce depend a lot on the financial ability of Texans to weather the storm and the comfort levels of each spouse.
Courts are generally hesitant to change existing orders if the pandemic is likely to end within a year.
Some of the ways the pandemic is directly affecting family law issues are:
- Grounds for divorce. One example of a practical change is that living apart for three years, one of the grounds for divorce, is more difficult because people are hesitant to move due to finances and the need to interact with movers and other people – to change locations.
- Child support. It’s harder to enforce child support payments by holding parents who don’t pay in contempt. Contempt means time in jail, and jails are having some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks.
- Child custody/conservatorship. The parent with primary conservatorship is being required to make more decisions than usual.
The Pros and Cons of Virtual Divorces
Practically, most divorce hearings and negotiations are being handled virtually. Zoom is the primary technical medium.
In Texas, according to a Texas family lawyer, “It’s not uncommon now for me to have a three-day trial or several hearings in one day all on Zoom.” With Zoom, lawyers and clients don’t need to wait their turn to be heard. Mediators and judges have been able to adapt reasonably well.
Other lawyers appreciate how well Zoom works – but still think face-to-face hearings are better. In-person, the closeness and stress of a hearing can help forge settlements and help confront spouses who aren’t credible. Virtual trials can make it difficult to see the people testifying for or against a client and to ask them credibility questions and cross-examine them. With Zoom, you can’t see if a client is being coached through text messages or in some other technical way.
Some aspects of remote divorce proceedings may continue even after the pandemic because remote communications help cut down on legal and court costs.
How the COVID-19 Health Crisis is Affecting the Resolution of Divorce Issues – Such as Child Custody, and Child Support
The pandemic is forcing more decisions to be made about child custody and support. Deciding when to divorce and how to divide property often can generally wait longer because they don’t affect life on a daily basis.
Some of the Texas conservatorship issues that are affected by COVID-19 include:
Child custody and visitation. Many schedules do need to be modified – either amicably or through the court process. Modifications are necessary because children are staying home more (during school hours and after school hours). Some of the pros and cons of raising children during the pandemic are:
- Parents are finding it challenging to obtain daycare services during the pandemic.
- It simply isn’t as easy for the parents to exchange their children due to safety concerns.
- Many parents need to stay home to monitor their child’s remote learning.
- On the plus side, many parents are getting closer to their children because they’re spending so much time with them.
Child support. Some parents have lost their jobs due to the pandemic crisis. Losing a job is a proper reason for seeking a modification of a child support order.
Some couples are fighting more because of the pandemic for different reasons:
- Sometimes being in the same home 24/7 makes it hard to find escape valves for releasing tensions.
- Spouses may discover that the other parent isn’t willing to take care of the children.
- Spouses may discover that the husband or wife can’t handle stress well.
- For some spouses, the close quarters only makes clear that the marriage isn’t working.
- Different parents may have different ideas on their children’s education and social activities during the pandemic.
- Marriage counseling is continuing online.
How Lawyers are Trying to Help Spouses and Parents During the Divorce
Lawyers are trying to help couples with marital difficulties by clarifying what their lives will look like during and after a divorce – so they can better decide whether to work through the pandemic issues or seek a divorce. Family lawyer help spouses and parents by explaining:
- How the divorce process works;
- What issues need to be resolved;
- How the resolution process works;
Some of the mechanisms family lawyers are using during the pandemic are:
- Informal settlements;
- Encouraging more flexibility;
- Reducing the number of exchanges of children;
- Collaborative divorces (which use a team approach with financial and mental health professionals), are working well during the pandemic – because the core idea behind the collaboration is to work out solutions instead of focusing on confrontation. Mediation is also a valuable divorce resolution tool.