Resolving Family Law Issues During a Pandemic

Jul 17, 2020 Child Custody

As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold and completely shifted our way of life as we know it, many are wondering how to make sense of life in this new normal. Certainly, couples who were in the process of adjusting to their own ‘new normal’ in the aftermath of a divorce may feel doubly stressed about what comes next. With courts across California shuttering in the wake of COVID-19, many couples in the process of divorcing are wondering whether their cases can go on as planned. Other couples well into their life as a divorced couple may be wondering whether they should adhere to previous child custody agreements, now that everything – including school schedules, safety concerns, and social distancing requirements – is being re-evaluated and re-considered as we aim to reduce the spread of this deadly disease. 

How Can My Divorce Proceed During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

If the closure of the court system in California is causing a major delay in the proceedings, you may wish to consider some of your other options. While your divorce may be a contentious one – that you believe can only be resolved through a lengthy courtroom trial – it may in fact be far more beneficial to put your differences aside and select a mediation or arbitration process to speed up your divorce’s finalization. After all, isn’t continuing to be locked into the marriage far more stressful than actually getting it resolved? Today, couples are increasingly moving to resolve their divorces in mediation and arbitration in an effort to avoid circumvent court closures and delays.

In mediation, couples agree to meet and work through their issues in the presence of their attorneys and a mediator, though the mediator’s recommendations are not binding on their ultimate decision. In arbitration, on the other hand, the arbitrator’s decision would be considered final and binding. Some couples may find that they are unable to resolve their differences and opt for arbitration as a way of settling their divorce once and for all, while others may feel like they would benefit from a mediator but would like to retain the right to have the final say.

While an arbitration or mediation proceeding won’t proceed as normal – social distancing guidelines do remain in place – your proceedings can be conducted virtually, via Zoom conference (while courts have been reluctant to grant the same privilege to courtroom hearings, arbitration and mediation proceedings are able to be held virtually over these technological platforms).

Some of the benefits of arbitration include:

  • You can choose your arbitrator. 
  • You can set the schedule for hearings.
  • You can see either side’s reaction in real time without having to physically face them in court. 
  • Once a final decision has been reached, that decision is completely binding and your divorce is finalized. 

Mediation is a similarly convenient process couples can undertake as they continue to navigate their divorce during a pandemic. Lawyers in California are seeing an uptick in the amount of divorce proceedings being handled through mediation, where comfortables generally feel more at ease arguing for child custody, support, and an equitable distribution of assets when they can do so virtually. From the comfort of their homes, parties feel more willing to be vulnerable, and generally feel safer communicating their wants and needs. 

How Should I Navigate My Child Custody Agreement?

With schools being closed and parents being forced to work from home – or perhaps, finding themselves with no work at all – child custody arrangements can once again become fraught and contentious. With nowhere to take your kids for a break, and some parents concerned about the other parent’s whereabouts and policies regarding social distancing and visitors, navigating your child custody arrangement is suddenly presented with a whole new set of challenges. 

You may be wondering whether you should honor your child custody agreement in the wake of such uncertainty. The short answer is yes – but with some caveats. It’s important for parents to recognize that right now, flexibility and compassion is key. Your children are already suffering immensely due to school being closed and an inability to see their friends and relatives. The last thing you want to do is add to their stress by refusing to give and take a little with your former spouse when they need a hand. Honor your agreement but above all else, make room for the occasional adjustment and be willing and open to negotiate terms that work for the right-now.

If you are particularly concerned that your former spouse may be at increased risk to contagion – whether that’s because they are a healthcare or other essential worker, or because they have chosen to welcome visitors or see friends, you can attempt to have a conversation with your former partner about interrupting your normal visitation schedule. While they may not initially like the proposal, they may wind up agreeing if they find that it is, in fact, in the child’s best interest to limit contact as the pandemic winds on. Whatever you wind up deciding, it would be wise to put this agreement into writing so there aren’t any issues down the line.

Seek Legal Guidance from Our Competent Irvine Family Law Attorneys

What happens if you can’t resolve your differences and your child custody agreement is once again thrown under a microscope? While it’s certainly a last resort, you may wish to contact your lawyer or call our experienced Irvine family law attorneys to resolve any underlying issues. At the moment, most courts in California are not operating at full capacity, so actually taking your grievances to court will be all but impossible at this time. Unless the health and safety of your child is truly in jeopardy because your issues can’t be resolved, you cannot expect to get a courtroom resolution during this time. As such, divorced spouses are advised to work it out instead – and while it may seem impossible to do so outside of court, working with an attorney will definitely make the situation go a lot smoother.   These are challenging and stressful times, and having the experience of an attorney to guide you may be the best decision you can make.