In this unprecedented time of the public health emergency presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and all the social uncertainty that comes with it, many people still have family law matters that they need to resolve. Perhaps you and your spouse were already speaking about ending the marriage before the current crisis worsened sharply in the past few weeks. Perhaps stay-at-home orders and work-from-home arrangements have exacerbated a difficult situation and brought a new resolve to move on. But with so much of our economy shut down, can you even file for divorce in California during the current pandemic?
The short answer is yes, but there may be delays and complications to obtaining temporary relief and finalization of a divorce, especially where spouses are unable to reach agreements on matters such as property distribution, child support, custody and visitation, and spousal support on their own. That said, attorneys and mediators may be able to help you finalize your divorce without ever needing to go to court.
California Family Courts Have Limited Functions During This Time
As of the writing of this article, many California family law courts have announced that they will only be open for limited purposes for at least several weeks, and, in some cases, months. Keep in mind that family law courts in California are organized by county, and each county may have its own guidelines for what the courts can do during this time.
The Los Angeles County family law courts, for example, are currently only hearing emergency issues such as restraining orders and emergency custody issues, while trials and hearings on non-emergency issues such as spousal support have all been continued until at least mid-April.
Los Angeles County does not appear to be an outlier in this respect, and many expect
continuances and delays in obtaining hearing dates could extend well past April.
That said, the courts are still accepting new filings, even if they may not be able to assign hearing dates to those who are requesting hearings. What this means is that, yes, you can currently file a petition for divorce and serve the petition on the other spouse, but obtaining relief from the courts in the form of spousal support, child support, custody, and other orders may have to wait if you and your spouse have an ongoing dispute on such issues.
California Family Law Attorneys and Mediators Are Available to Help Facilitate Divorces
It’s important to understand that many people who obtain a divorce in California never have to see the inside of a courtroom. If you and your spouse are able to reach an agreement on all issues relating to property, custody, and child and spousal support, then that agreement can be drafted and submitted to a court for its approval, and the court can finalize the divorce without the parties ever coming face-to-face with a judge. It is unclear at this point if there are delays in the courts’ ability to process such uncontested divorces, but, in general, it does appear that the coronavirus pandemic should not prevent people from obtaining such an uncontested divorce.
And while the courts – which are of course public facilities – may have slowed down and temporarily shut down some of their functions, most family law attorneys continue to work during these times and are here to assist clients initiate new divorce petitions, provide advice and guidance, and negotiate and finalize divorces. Should your case require litigation in the courts, an attorney can prepare for that as well.
Furthermore, if there are issues to be worked out between the parties in reaching resolution in their divorce, mediators can work with the parties to reach such a resolution and create an agreement, thereby avoiding the delay and uncertainty of the court system. Our office even provides state-wide online mediation, which in normal circumstances allows parties to work together to reach agreement when busy schedules and tension make in-person sessions difficult, and in these times provides safe social distancing and convenience for those with kids at home.
Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney
If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.