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 court’s closure also means that it could be several months before parties are able to get into court if they are unable to resolve issues on their own. For example, many people have lost their jobs or have had their incomes reduced. Normally, absent an agreement otherwise, a party requesting to modify support would have to file a motion to get a hearing set on the court’s calendar. Since the court is closed, this could cause considerable impact on someone who is under a court order to pay support at a certain amount, but now can’t afford to do so and can’t get into court immediately to reduce support. The good news is that courts are allowing parties to go ahead and serve their motions in order to preserve retroactivity.
Some are hoping that closure of the courts will actually encourage settlement. If the courts are looking at a huge backlog of hearings once they are allowed to reopen, then that may encourage some people to stay on track for settlement in order to avoid that backlog and further delay.
Another problem some couples are facing is depreciation of assets. Typically, division of assets is a large part of the divorce process, and most people are in agreement with trying to get the best value or price for an asset they are dividing or selling. However, trying to determine what assets will be worth after the pandemic is difficult to predict. As a result, divorce litigants may be faced with either agreeing to a lower value for certain assets or postponing a valuation or sale to see if rates and values will increase . Further complicating these decisions is the reality that many people will be experiencing decreased cash flow. If one party needs money quickly, they could be forced to accept a lower value or offer on the sale of an asset, such as a house.
Despite all of the uncertainty these days, it is still possible to keep a divorce moving forward or to start a new case during this pandemic. What most people do not realize is that there are several steps to a divorce that can certainly be completed without the need for court intervention. In fact, an entire case can be brought to conclusion at this time as long as the parties do not need assistance from the court. The hope is that during this time, parties and attorneys will cooperate in order to reach settlement. It is important that you seek advice from knowledgeable attorneys in order to navigate this unusual and turbulent time.
At Argyris Mah, LLP, our experienced and skilled attorneys will help guide you through the process and come up with a plan tailored to your individual situation and needs. Contact our office at 408-214-6366 or email us at email@example.com for a free initial consultation.