By: John Whitbeck
John C. Whitbeck, Jr. is the founder of WhitbeckBennett. His practice focuses on family law, special education law, and mental health law. He regularly practices in several jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia area. He has also been certified as an expert witness in litigation. To learn more about John Whitbeck, click here.
How has COVID-19 Affected Your Divorce Proceedings?
If you are in active litigation for your divorce, or thinking about it, the impact of the pandemic has been profound. It’s important to have a family law attorney who has handled cases during the pandemic and is experienced in how judges deal with cases during this difficult time.
Court Procedures are Substantially Different.
Court proceedings before and after the pandemic are very different. For one, you are likely going to wait significantly longer to get your case heard. Many courts actually shut down for a time or removed cases from their scheduled hearing date. Now all those cases are being rescheduled. This means big backlogs in most courts, and likely will mean your divorce will happen later than you planned. It’s important your attorney is experienced in the local rules and procedures in your area so they can help you get the quickest hearing possible.
Many courts have changed the way they hear cases as well. For example, before the pandemic, many courts would allocate more time for your case than they will now. Many courts have gone to more abbreviated hearings out of necessity to ensure people have their case heard timely. The result is having to do more with less time. Make sure your attorney is experienced in litigating cases so they can adjust to the new rules and still be effective for you.
Biggest Impact? Probably Custody and Visitation.
Custody and visitation cases have changed dramatically during the pandemic. Your hearing has probably not only been delayed, but the procedures are also different, and you aren’t going to have as much time to put on your case. You must put yourself in the best position to get a good outcome. Here are a few pointers.
First, judges may consider withholding children from the other parent as unreasonable even if there’s a pandemic-related reason. Whether it’s a parent being un-vaccinated or you disagree with their lifestyle choices, you still have to consider that judges have their own opinions on the subject – and it may be different from yours. Make sure your attorney knows the local judges so they can advise you on how best to handle the situation if you are concerned about the other parent’s position on COVID-related issues.
Second, in situations where you have to wait a long time to get a court hearing, it’s best to come up with a temporary custody arrangement on your own if you can. Your attorney can help you with options available to you to try and work out a schedule with the other parent, so your children can enjoy time with both parents. Of course, there are extreme cases where the other parent is a danger to the children or toxic in some way, so make sure you are consulting with your attorney about the best way to handle custodial time.
Finally, if you and the other parent disagree on whether a child should be vaccinated, you need to consult with your attorney on how best to handle this. This issue could become a crucial part of your custody case if you end up in court; If you are vaccinating a child or refusing the vaccine for a child over the other parent’s objection, it could significantly impact the outcome of your case. Again, it’s vital that your attorney have experience with your local area judges and courts so they can at least guide you on how you should proceed.
Property and Support Proceedings are Impacted as well.
In addition to the obvious problems of less court time and longer waiting periods, the pandemic impact on your family property and finances will, of course, affect the outcome of your divorce case.
Many people had changes in employment during the pandemic. This means the court’s determination of spousal support and/or child support will be very different than it would have been before the pandemic. Because of this, your attorney must have handled cases involving these issues so they can better advise you on possible outcomes.
Regarding the division of property, courts are largely handling these issues the same in terms of applying the law, but a few specific areas may be different during the pandemic. Examples include:
- The sale of real estate.
- The valuation of small businesses.
- The division of stimulus checks and tax refunds.
Our firm has been open and working full speed during the pandemic and stands ready to assist you in navigating your existing or future divorce cease during this difficult time. Give us a call to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.
To learn more about divorce, visit our Divorce Law page.