Written By: Stephenie Gookins
COVID-19 has most people on edge and concerned. Living in an unhealthy relationship during a stay-at-home order can add stress, fear, and additional anxiety. Many people contemplating divorce are unsure what to do because of all the limitations placed on us during the shelter in place order. It is possible to file for and proceed with the dissolution process during this unprecedented time.
While most courts are not open for business “as usual,” it is important for people to know that they do have access to justice and can proceed with necessary court filings, which includes filing for divorce. Either spouse may file for dissolution. Petitions for dissolution of marriage are e-filed with the county clerk and the other party can be served via certified mail or via a process server. Most attorneys offer phone consults or video conferences to meet with clients who are considering filing for divorce. Potential clients can get their questions answered and documents can be exchanged electronically for signature before being electronically filed with the Court.
While it is unlikely that the court will set a hearing to resolve all pending issues in a dissolution until the stay-at-home order is lifted, the Court is still addressing essential or emergency issues in cases. If there is domestic violence and/or a protective order is filed, a court will likely hold a hearing. If your case involves emergency child custody related issues, the Court may likely determine a hearing is needed immediately. Courts are holding hearings via video and, in some cases, in person. In all cases, judges remain available to attorneys for attorney conferences to discuss ongoing concerns in client’s cases so that attorneys can receive guidance and direction from the Court.
There are many ways to resolve a divorce case besides going to a courtroom. A large majority of dissolution matters resolve via informal negotiation between the attorneys or the formal mediation process. If parties opt for mediation, a mediator, who is generally an attorney, is selected by the parties and their counsel. A date is set when all involved parties meet with the goal of resolving all outstanding issues.
The mediation process has been altered during this time to comply with social distancing and stay at home orders but continues to be very successful. Many mediations are being conducted via video conferencing with everyone in a separate location. During the conferences, attorneys and clients still have the opportunity to speak to the mediator privately, without the other client and attorney being present. Attorneys and clients can also communicate privately using the video conference. Documents can be easily shared for viewing on the computer screens during the mediation and there are effective programs to obtain electronic signatures during the mediation so agreements can be finalized and filed with the court as soon as agreements are reached. Most attorneys and mediators currently have significantly reduced court calendars which results in availability on their calendars to get mediations scheduled quickly for parties pursuing resolution by mediation.
If you are in an unhealthy relationship and want to file for divorce during this pandemic, give Cate, Terry & Gookins a call. Stephenie Gookins is ready to assist you by answering any questions you have and walking you through the difficult process.