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COVID-19s Impact on Divorce

We’re now nine weeks into the shelter-in-place order put into place by Santa Clara County as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and there is no doubt that the pandemic has had a significant impact on many people’s divorces. Initially, there were predictions for a second “baby boom” following the pandemic. Others predicted that instead of more babies, there would be more divorces. While it remains to be seen whether the pandemic will cause an increase in divorces , one thing that’s certain is that COVID-19 has caused slowing, if not a complete stalling, of many divorces.

Right now, Santa Clara County and Alameda County family courts are closed, and no hearings are being set except for domestic violence matters and emergency custody and visitation issues. Nearly all other hearings and court appearances scheduled from mid-March 2020 through the end of May have been continued. Naturally, this causes delay and disruption to an already emotional, and often time-consuming process.

The Santa Clara County Court has issued new guidelines on custody and visitation during the Covid-19 Public Health Guidelines. Please see the link and direct information below:

http://cdn.ymaws.com/sccba.site-ym.com/resource/collection/8D5BD517-FD51-42C9-BE94-222AE9D82675/Child_Custody_and_Visitation_Policies.pdf

NOTICE CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION POLICIES DURING COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY

Quarantines and Custody Agreements: How Do Divorced and Separated Parents Handle Coronavirus?

https://www.today.com/parents/how-divorced-parents-handle-custody-coronavirus-t176236?utm_source=Justia%20Blogging%20Ideas&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=65a8ab72e8-blogging_ideas_family_20200325&utm_term=0_dba88020e6-65a8ab72e8-406704077

Santa Clara County has been subject to a “Shelter in Place” order since March 17th.  This has prompted many of our clients to reach out an ask whether and/or how this will affect their custody arrangement.  This is a particularly tricky question for parents who live in different counties, or even states.

Heterosexual couples now have an alternative to marriage. As of January 1, 2020, heterosexual couples can now enter into domestic partnerships.

Prior to the new law going into effect, only same-sex couples and heterosexual couples over the age of 62 could enter into a domestic partnership. Since 2013 same-sex couples have been allowed the choice of either entering into a domestic partnership or entering into a marriage, but now domestic partnership is generally available to anyone who wishes to enter into one.

There are, however, still certain individuals who do not qualify to enter into a domestic partnership. This includes anyone under 18, people who are already married, people who are not legally allowed to marry, such as certain individuals related by blood, and those who are not capable of consenting to a domestic partnership.

Divorce is never an easy task to get through, but most of us survive it and can even end up happier on the other side. Then the holiday season arrives. The holidays are hard to get through even in the most perfect circumstances, so how does one survive the holidays when newly divorced or still going through a divorce? It’s no easy task but the way you handle it will not only determine how enjoyable the holidays are for your children, but how much you enjoy yourself around the holidays as well (which is likely well deserved).

According to the article below, the overriding theme to remember during the holidays following your divorce is that “you do you.” Sure, it sounds cliché, but really, you have just come out of what most would argue was not an ideal marriage, so why not focus on your happiness for a change? Here are some tips on how to make your life easier during the holidays:

https://www.scarymommy.com/not-creature-was-stirring-surviving-holidays-divorce/

Most people agree that going through a divorce isn’t easy. Even despite best efforts to work together and remain amicable with a soon-to-be ex-spouse during and following a divorce, doing so sometimes proves trickier than people anticipate. Luckily, there are now have several useful apps that can make interacting with your ex-spouse a little easier as outlined in the USA Today article below:

7 Divorce Apps Help Navigate Life With Your Ex

OurFamilyWizard is an app that many parties with children use. OurFamilyWizard, sometimes referred to as OFW, has several features which parents find useful, the first of which is a secure message board for parents to communicate through. This is helpful if parents find communicating through other methods, such as texting, difficult. Some of the app’s other features include an interactive calendar which parents can use to schedule who has the kids on which days and what upcoming extra-curricular activities the children may be participating in. It also has an expense logto help track the children’s expenses so that one parent can easily reimburse the other. Parents can also upload receipts and invoices for these expenses, and for an added fee, even make payments within OurFamilyWizard.  The app also has the ability to store medical history, insurance information, emergency contact information, and school schedules. OurFamilyWizard costs $99 annually.

As part of their “Blended Family Friday “series, the Huffington Post ran the following article about two divorced parents and how they “co-parent” their child.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/05/advice-for-blended-families-_n_7515012.html?utm_hp_ref=divorce&ir=Divorce

The article highlights just how important it is for parents to work together to raise their children, even after they are separated. Divorced or separated parents are often so angry at the other parent, that they cannot see past their issues with each other to really work together to figure out what is best for their children. When parents cannot agree on issues such as schooling, visitation schedule changes and even day-to-day parenting issues, they are left with little choice but to turn to their attorneys, requesting discussions with opposing counsel and/or the court’s intervention. This results in both parties incurring significant and often unnecessary, attorney fees and costs, and causes stress not only for the parents, but for the children as well. Ultimately, it results in a judge making a decision about children he or she has never met. Clearly, a child’s parents are better suited to be making such decisions.

Some San Jose divorce, custody and/or support matters are assigned to a department where a judge is presiding, while other matters are heard in front of a commissioner. So, what is the difference between the two, and is one better than another?

A judge is elevated to the bench either by election or by appointment by the Governor. A judge must also be a licensed attorney to be eligible to serve on the bench. A commissioner, on the other hand, is an individual who is hired by the court to help out with a judge’s case load. Commissioners must also be licensed attorneys to be eligible to serve as a commissioner. Often, Commissioners work very closely with judges, and judges consider them essential for managing the work of the court.

Commissioners can perform judicial duties involving the determination of contested issues only upon the stipulation of the parties, but with that stipulation they have the same powers as judges. That means that the commissioner has the same power as a judge to hear a court case and make legally binding judgments. Per California Code of Civil Procedure Section 259, “[s]ubject to the supervision of the court, every court commissioner shall have power to do all of the following:

Most people recognize that divorce isn’t easy on children, no matter what the circumstances surrounding the divorce are. However,  for may reasons, it is helpful to try to keep the divorce process as low-conflict and as amicable as possible.

Some couples are implementing “nesting”, also known as “birdnesting”, as a way to ease the impact of divorce on their children. So what is nesting? Generally, nesting occurs where parents keep the main house and then share a separate house or apartment where they will stay when they are not at the main home with the children.

The idea behind nesting is that it is less disruptive for the children to remain in the family home, and have the parents rotate to the separate location, as opposed to shuffling children back and forth between two different households. This type of nesting is beneficial to children because not only do they get to stay in a home that is familiar to them (and thus relieving the need to take belongings to different homes), but it often allows them to remain at the same school and keep in touch with friends.

Often parties wonder what will happen to their pets during a divorce. Will the parties share the pets? Can you negotiate custody of a pet as you would a child? Thus far, pets have always been treated as property in the eyes of the family court. This upset avid pet lovers, but the reality of the situation is that pets typically went where the children went.

However, Jerry Brown has just signed a bill in California granting judges the authority to settle pet custody disputes similarly to how child custody disputes are handled. The law is set to go into effect on January 1, 2019. While many believe this is a positive step forward, and it certainly is as parties will now have rights over their pets, the concern is that it will bring new havoc and discord to family law cases. Nevertheless, the court’s previous stance on pets seemed quite harsh, particularly to those parties who love their pets like humans or like their own children. Pet owners were often indefinitely separated from the pets they loved with absolutely no recourse.

Now, parties can either agree to a visitation plan with their pets or have a Judge decide. This brings up several additional questions, however. Can one party request pet support? Or perhaps the parties will have to share in the cost of pet health insurance? The outcome of this new law remains to be seen and will be far reaching but will prove to make pet owners happy with the family court.

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