On March 19, 2020, the Governor of the State of California issued a Stay at Home Order that substantially affected the estimated 39 million residents. Individuals and families now ordered to remain in their homes until further notice to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But what about the people starting their divorce process? Or in the middle of a divorce proceeding? Or at the tail end of the divorce and awaiting their judgment review?
COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the world is vastly different than anything we have ever experienced before. While we have natural disasters and outbreaks, the coronavirus is unpredictable, and we can’t confidently predict an end at this time. As many couples share a residence during this time, we can’t help be concerned for those individuals going through a divorce and may be subject to domestic violence in some shape or form.
Petitions for divorce are steadily increasing because couples are spending a surprising amount of time together than ever before due to the stay at home orders. How can parties complete their divorce when the courts are closed? If the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (divorce) has been filed and successfully served on the opposing party, great. If the opposing party has submitted their Response to divorce paperwork, that leads us to step two.
California imposes a six-month waiting period from the time of filing for dissolution or legal separation to the time entry of judgment is awarded under California Family Code section n2339(a). For example, parties who file for divorce in January cannot be awarded judgment until July.
The essential part of the divorce proceeding is the financial disclosure aspect. Disclosures allow each party to have full transparency concerning all assets and debts, either owned by the community or separate property. For most, this part takes a long time to prepare as there are various documents requiring production and must be collected and served onto the other party. If individuals are currently at home because of COVID-19, this would be an excellent opportunity to retrieve all the necessary documents to proceed forward with the divorce.
While many can produce such on their own, it is always in your best interest to retain an attorney to review and evaluate the community assets and debts and present you with available options. Often, there is an unrepresented party that misses out on marital benefits simply because they were unaware of such. For example, California is a no-fault divorce and community property state. No-fault means you can divorce for any reason known as irreconcilable differences. Community property essentially means that any asset or debt acquired during the marriage is subject to equal division. Again, a qualified family law attorney can explain and advise you on the differences between separate and community property.
The problem here is that majority of California courts have suspended operations until early May. The judicial review may be on hold due to the coronavirus resulting in an unexpected pause in the court process.
Some individuals are relying on a dissolution judgment for various reasons, such as getting remarried to someone else, terminating support, or removing their ex-spouse from their benefits. Whatever the reason, people are not alone. Family law attorneys are addressing the issues and can advise their clients on the best-case plan to progress. If your case has been abruptly placed on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, contact a family law attorney now to find out what your available options are.