Divorce has always been something to plan ahead for, 2020 makes no exception. Since live has evolved so much this, and with the courts too, I've asked local family law attorney Kelley Rider Goodwin to let us know what she's seen change this year and what considerations need to be made for anyone considering this path. See below for Kelley's insights.
Divorce in 2020: Three Changes We've Seen, and How to Prepare
COVID-19 has affected almost everything, likely everything. This includes the Court system and legal process, locally and across the country. I am asked almost every day by potential new clients, referral partners, and family and friends what changes I am seeing in the Court system given the pandemic.
My answer is always the same: “It is too early to fully understand all the effects that the pandemic has on the legal process, but we have already seen some changes, and have assumptions on others,” and I walk them through those changes and give suggestions and advice on how to address them.
Between March 16 and June 1, almost every county closed its doors to Court hearings in Family Law cases unless there were emergencies such as requests for protective orders and emergency restriction requests for parenting time. The Courts, thus canceled and rescheduled all the Hearings that were set to take place between that time period to later in the year.
As a point of reference, when parties in a divorce or custody case cannot come to a resolution on their own, the remaining disputed issues are presented to the Court, and the Judge or Magistrate makes the decision regarding these issues. Courts only hear one case at a time and for set blocks of time. The longer time period of a Hearing, typically the further out on the Court’s calendar time has to be found. With this, we anticipate:
- The process will take longer.
The legal process never moves as quickly or as swiftly has parties or attorneys want or need it to. As mentioned above, thousands of Court Hearings in Family Law cases were canceled and rescheduled to later in the year. There is no indication that the rate of divorce and filing of new divorce or custody cases has slowed, thus it is a reasonable assumption that the same average of 30,000 new cases filed each year will be filed in 2020. As such, expectations need to be adjusted regarding how long the process will take. Plan and prepare for a longer legal process as it not only affects the parties but the children and other areas.
- Opportunity for parties to be more invested in the Mediation / settlement process.
Because cases will likely take longer, the situation creates the opportunity for parties to lean into and become more invested in the Mediation / settlement process. Mediation (formal negotiations) and settlement discussions (informal negotiations) are not beholden to the Court’s calendar and schedule. Mediations are continuing to be held virtually, which makes the scheduling and the Mediation itself more flexible. Note, there are a lot of understandings around Mediation, so it is important that the parties understand what it is and what it is not.
- Changes are making the process more efficient and technology-focused.
Some counties, including in the Denver metro area, have made the determination to continue to hold contested Hearings virtual instead of in-person. As a practitioner, I understand the reasons why - everyone is required to wear a mask so it is 1. Hard to hear people 2. Know who is talking and 3. Assess the credibility of the parties and witnesses.
This includes Mediation. Less stressful, no travel, still the ability to share and show documents, includes using a whiteboard to draw a parenting time schedule as a visual aid, and so on. I hope that these changes become the new norm because it does help the parties and the legal process be more efficient.
Though it may not be the right time for you right now, there are things you can do to get prepared now.
1. Seek legal advice/education.
2. Retain an attorney if speed is the priority.
3. Come up with a proposal regarding living arrangements with spouse.
4. Address financial circumstances (and modify if needed).
5. Gather financial paperwork.
6. Come up with a proposal for a Parenting Plan for the children.
7. Take inventory of Personal Property.
8. Locate and safeguard Personal Legal Documents.
9. Get yourself ready with a support network and self-care plan.
I have been exclusively practicing Family Law for my entire legal career - 10+ years. I know the power and importance of education and information in these cases so that informed choices and decisions are made for one’s future.
If you are finding yourself considering this change to your family, I am open to having a free, confidential conversation with you to talk about your situation and options. You can schedule a call with me to be better able to make the right decisions for you and your family.
Kelley Rider Goodwin
The Rider Goodwin Law Offices, LLC