It probably comes as no surprise to you that calls to family law attorneys have risen since California’s stay-at-home orders have been put in place, with some ready to file divorce petitions immediately and others calling simply to learn more about their options for pursuing divorce either now or at some point in the future. Whether it be the emotional strain of couples spending their days cooped up in the same living quarters 24/7, the financial strain of the pandemic, or even just more time to reflect on what they want their life to look like going forward, many people are seriously pondering what lies ahead for them and beginning to take action.
Which raises the following question: during a time when Californians cannot go out to the salon, a restaurant, their house of worship, or even to beaches in some counties, can they move forward with a divorce? The answer is yes, but, like most other things in our lives now, the process for doing so may look quite different from normal and is subject to change.
The bottom line in most California county court systems is that the courts are accepting and processing new petitions for divorce as well as the all-important stipulated judgments (also known as “settlement agreements”) that actually finalize divorces, but most courts have very limited functions for hearing disputes between spouses, whether in a temporary hearing or ultimate trial on all divorce issues, although there are exceptions for emergency issues such as restraining orders. As of the date of this blog, while LA County has begun processing paperwork, Ventura Superior Court has not yet begun processing paperwork except for emergency filings.
In “normal” times, many divorces are initiated, negotiated, and finalized without the parties ever having to appear in court, even if the necessary legal documents are filed in court. That does not mean those divorces are devoid of arguments and back-and-forths between parties and their lawyers, but it does mean they never get to the point where the parties simply cannot agree such that a judge needs to step in and make a decision on the issues at stake in a divorce. For those types of situations, at least for LA Superior Court cases, a divorce can now proceed as they did before without the intervention of a court, as attorneys are working with parties to file petitions; provide financial disclosures; negotiate issues of property distribution, child custody, spousal support, and child support; and draft stipulated judgments with the courts, which are, again, able to process and enter such judgments even during the pandemic.
Where parties cannot agree, however, and a court hearing and/or trial is needed, the COVID-19 crisis does mean there may be a delay – perhaps quite significant depending on the county and how future events related to the pandemic unfold – in getting before a judge. But, in any case, you can file a petition for divorce now and work with your attorney and the other party to reach an out-of-court agreement that addresses all issues in the divorce, and, should you determine that going to court is necessary to resolve your divorce, you can request a hearing and/or trial now with the understanding that longer-than-usual delays might be in store.
Court updates are provided daily so please be sure to check your local court website for the latest information.
Whether in a pandemic or not, resolving a divorce outside of court should always be the goal, as doing so reduces attorneys’ fees, unnecessary drama, and the time it takes to obtain your divorce. As both a mediator who works with both spouses to reach lasting agreements and an attorney representing individuals in the divorce process, I have always made it a priority to help my clients find the least burdensome path – both financially and emotionally – in moving through divorce to the next chapter of their lives. Furthermore, my office is equipped to assist clients remotely, including through online mediation.
To learn more about your options for pursuing a divorce in these difficult times, contact us online or by phone at (805) 777-7740 to schedule a consultation.