The Impact of COVID-19 on California Family Law

COVID-19 has impacted nearly every part of our lives. Our health, society, and economy have been affected, and families are moving into uncharted territory. Regardless of where you are in your family law journey, the experienced family law attorneys of Seastrom, Tuttle & Murphy can help you through challenging times and changes due to COVID-19.

Going Through a Divorce and Dealing with Other Family Law Matters During the COVID-19 Crisis

Whether you are contemplating a divorce, you are struggling to comply with your parenting plan, you have lost your job, or you are dealing with any other family-related issue, our attorneys are here to help you. Here are some important facts for you to know if you have questions or need legal help during the COVID-19 crisis:

  • The California Courts are Open – California’s courts are open and operating at a limited capacity. In Orange County, you can find the latest updates on the Superior Court website. However, because the courts were primarily forced to cease operations during California’s stay-at-home order (and the current limited nature of the courts’ operations), certain cases face significant delays. Fortunately, many types of family law issues do not require immediate court involvement. Many kinds of family-related legal matters can be resolved through mediation, collaborative law and other non-judicial means.
  • You Can Get Divorced During the COVID19 Crisis – If you are ready to get divorced, there is no reason to delay your divorce filing due to COVID-19. Since California has a mandatory six-month waiting period, filing now can help ensure that you can finalize your divorce as soon as possible. All of the services you will need during the divorce process are available remotely. You can begin working with an attorney on your divorce without needing to schedule an in-person appointment.
  • Parents Must Proactively Address Child-Related Issues – If you have run into issues concerning child custody or child visitation as a result of the pandemic, it will be vital for you to address these issues proactively. Violating a court order is a serious matter. While we are living in unprecedented times, this won’t necessarily provide you with a defense to violate the terms of your custody-and-visitation arrangement. If you and your former spouse or partner can work out a temporary solution, this may be a good option. However, in any case, you need to ensure that the decisions you make reflect the best interests of your children.
  • Child Support and Spousal Support Payors Must Proactively Address Financial Issues – Likewise, if you are unable to meet your child support or spousal support obligations as a result of losing your job or losing business due to the COVID-19 crisis, this is a family law issue that you will need to address proactively as well. Going into arrears can have significant consequences, and you may be able to obtain a modification or reach a temporary agreement to avoid violating your child support or spousal support order.
  • Our Family Law Firm is Fully Operational During the COVID-19 Crisis – Our lawyers are working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, and our firm is operating at full capacity. We can arrange for you to meet with one of our lawyers by phone or videoconference, and we can send you electronic files securely online.

Divorce During COVID-19 in Orange County

Life during COVID-19 can be especially challenging for families emotionally and financially. The extended time families spend sheltered in place can stress an already fragile balance. Whether you find yourself in the early stages of separation or divorce proceedings or in a new phase of family law discussions due to COVID-19, experienced Irvine divorce attorney can help you during this trying time.

Due to COVID-19, many courts have closed or limited services. Of course the well being of children comes with a sense of urgency for the courts, and proceeding with family law matters to provide security for children is a priority. Once the courts reopen, it is expected that due to the health and safety concerns associated with COVID-19, court proceedings may have additional safety measures in place to reduce the spread of disease, and may even be delayed. These safety measures will likely slow the process. Our experienced Irvine family law negotiators and litigators will navigate these challenges on your behalf to reach a resolution and secure your rights in your divorce proceeding.

Child Support Modifications

Child Support obligations should not be ignored during a crisis. Business losses and economic uncertainty have caused fear in the public arena during COVID-19. Even in the best of times, if a modification of child support is needed due to a change in circumstances, this modification must involve the courts, or a written agreement prepared in accordance with legal formalities. Without the court’s approval, the modification is not official and can result in issues for both parents. Without a modification, a paying parent who has lost income during this time will still be responsible for the current child support amounts and can encounter future legal issues for nonpayment. Similarly, the child support recipient may also experience a loss and change in circumstances. Without a court-approved modification, the receiving parent may miss out on necessary funds and have limited recourse to receive these funds in the future. As child support is complicated, and modifications can involve significant asset investigation and negotiations, it is important to consult an Irvine child support attorney.

COVID-19 Stimulus Funds

Due to the economic hardship experienced by many while businesses close down due to COVID-19, the federal government provided a stimulus relief package that included checks to many adults to compensate for some loss in income. In addition, a child credit was allocated in this stimulus fund. One of the major questions is which parent is entitled to receive the stimulus credit for the child as allocated in the relief fund. Since divorced parents may trade off claiming the child as a dependent on their taxes and the stimulus check is based on federal tax returns, there may be a debate over which parent should receive the stimulus child credit. Consult with your Irvine family law attorney to determine if you have a right to the child credit, and how to go about receiving your funds.

If recently divorced and a new tax filing was not completed by divorced parents in time to reflect their divorced status prior to the stimulus checks being issued, there may be concern over one parent receiving more than their share of the stimulus check. An Irvine or Orange divorce attorney can assist with this asset allocation and protect your family’s wealth or support.

Frequently-Asked Questions for Our Irvine Family Lawyers

Q: Will my divorce or family law case in California be delayed as a result of COVID-19?

Possibly. As we discussed above, the Orange County courts are currently behind schedule and operating at limited capacity, so if you need to seek a resolution in court, your case’s outcome could be delayed. That said, the courts are still processing emergency filings on a timely basis, and many family-related legal issues can be handled without going to court.

Q: What should I do if I suspect that my former spouse or partner may have been exposed to COVID-19?

If you have children and are concerned that your former spouse or partner may have been exposed to COVID-19, you should consider whether you trust them to do the right thing. If so, then you may consider relying on him or her to tell you if there is a risk that your child could have been infected. However, your child’s health, your health, and your other loved ones’ health need to take priority over any concerns about having a difficult discussion, and we encourage you to contact us if you believe that some form of action may be warranted.

Q: How should divorced and separated parents deal with custody during unexpected school and daycare closures?

Even though these are unprecedented times, the first place to look for answers regarding custody and visitation is your existing parenting plan. If your plan provides guidance – and if you can follow it – this is most likely the way to go. However, if your parenting plan does not contemplate this type of scenario, or if you cannot meet your legal obligations, you should consult with an attorney regarding available options.

Q: If I am out of work due to COVID-19, can I apply for additional child support or spousal support?

Potentially, yes. If your financial circumstances have materially changed due to the COVID-19 crisis, you may be eligible to seek child support or spousal support modification. The same is true if you are out of work and unable to meet your child support or spousal support obligations as they come due.

Consult with an Irvine Family Attorney

As our world continues changing due to COVID-19, Seastrom, Tuttle & Murphy is available to support your family. If you are experiencing a difficult family situation and need to secure your rights, schedule a confidential consultation with our experienced Orange County Family Law firm. You can call 949-474-0800 or get in touch online with us today.