The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed radical changes in our society in an extremely short amount of time. With each passing day, anxiety grows about what the future may bring and what the “new normal” will look like. For many, the stresses of the pandemic, such as working from home, canceling long-held plans, and homeschooling children, have taken a deep emotional toll. Individuals who are going through family law issues face even deeper challenges, as divorce, child custody, and spousal support considerations are disruptive even in the absence of a global pandemic. Couples who are considering a divorce or who are in the process of a divorce during the COVID-19 pandemic should give special consideration to the issues discussed below. For more information about divorce during the COVID-19 crisis, please contact our Alpharetta divorce lawyers.
Impact on Assets
The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns have wreaked havoc on the American economy, resulting in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Its effects have essentially wiped out the economic gains of the last decade and decimated entire industries, particularly the travel, hospitality, and foodservice industries. Such economic uncertainty has also taken a toll on global markets, causing significant shakeups and loss of asset value. If you are thinking about divorcing during this time, consider the possible economic implications: one spouse may have lost his or her job and could struggle to pay spousal or child support, while the value of stocks, bonds, investments, real estate, and businesses has likely decreased, shrinking the value of the marital estate. Such financial turmoil can significantly complicate the division of assets during a divorce.
Access to medical care is more important now than ever, particularly for individuals who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Divorce can complicate medical coverage, as many individuals are covered under one or the other spouse’s employer-sponsored health insurance program. Once a judgment of divorce is entered, the non-subscribing spouse no longer qualifies as an eligible dependent of the subscribing spouse and will lose his or her health insurance coverage. The non-subscribing spouse must then obtain health insurance through other means. Ideally, he or she will be able to obtain insurance through an employer. But if that is not an option, he or she will either have to purchase a private plan, which can be prohibitively expensive, or accept COBRA benefits through the ex-spouse’s employer-sponsored group health plan. Like private health insurance plans, COBRA benefits can also be costly, and they are limited to a period of 36 months after a divorce or separation.
Social distancing and lockdown-related restrictions on travel may affect the nature and quality of parenting time. Parents are advised to follow the parenting time requirements of their child custody agreements strictly, but some may feel that the pandemic should alter how parenting time is spent. For example, if one of the child’s parents is an essential worker who interacts extensively with the public, the parents may feel that the child should spend the majority of his or her time with the parent who is least at risk of exposure for the duration of the pandemic. In other cases, the parents may feel that the child should spend his or her time with the parent who is more capable of providing a homeschool education. If the schools reopen, the parents may agree that the child should spend most of his or her time with the parent who is least at risk of the negative health effects of COVID-19. However reasonable these departures from a child custody agreement may seem, courts enforce child custody agreements strictly and are generally reluctant to change them absent a material change in circumstances. Divorced couples who want to modify a child custody agreement should contact our Alpharetta divorce lawyers before doing so.
Access to Attorneys and Courts
One of the major effects of the pandemic is a fundamental shift in the way people communicate with each other. Rather than traditional face-to-face meetings, we have undergone a rapid shift to a world where meeting remotely, either by phone or video chat, has become the norm. This shift has also extended to the legal system.
Most attorneys are happy to continue meeting with their clients via video chat, but such arrangements can pose problems for the attorney-client relationship. For instance, video chat meetings lack the benefits of face-to-face interaction, and many types of non-verbal communication, such as body language, can get lost in translation and weaken a client’s trust in his or her attorneys. Attorney-client privilege also requires that communications between attorneys and their clients be confidential, and many clients may not have access to a private space to facilitate such communications over video chat. And document transfer can be impeded by having to mail documents back and forth rather than exchanging them instantaneously in person.
Access to the courts may also be limited by the pandemic. In Georgia, Chief Justice Harold D. Melton of the Supreme Court of Georgia has limited in-court proceedings to “essential functions” and encouraged the use of remote proceedings wherever possible. Under the order, essential functions are open to interpretation, but generally consist of:
- Immediate liberty or safety concerns require the attention of the court as soon as it is available
- Criminal court search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, and bond reviews
- Domestic abuse temporary protective orders and restraining orders
- Juvenile court delinquency detention hearings and emergency removal matters
- Mental health commitment hearings
The Chief Justice has since loosened restrictions on in-court proceedings and instructed each court to develop and implement its own operating guidelines, but restrictions remain in place and may affect divorce proceedings.
Contact Our Alpharetta Divorce Lawyers for More Information
The COVID-19 pandemic has put us all in uncharted territory; if you are considering a divorce or have a divorce-related family law issue during this time, you should seek the expertise of an experienced family law attorney who can help you navigate through it. For more information, please contact the Alpharetta divorce lawyers at Hait & Kuhn by using our online form or calling us at either of our metro Atlanta locations: Alpharetta (770-517-0045) or Woodstock (678-888-0198).