How Will the Coronavirus Affect Family Legal Matters?

Everyone is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countless businesses have had to close their doors, and millions of Americans have suddenly found themselves out of a job. Most of the country is under lockdown until the virus passes, the children are doing distance learning, and a lot of people have moved their offices to their homes.

The coronavirus pandemic is sure to affect every area of our society, and particularly families. Families will be impacted in numerous ways, and this includes legal proceedings that have been filed in the family courts, or that were about to be filed, as well as ongoing settlement agreements from prior proceedings.

Divorce

With the South Carolina courts closed for everything except emergency hearings, the most immediate effect will be a delay in the divorce proceeding. Depending on how long things are shut down, a newly filed divorce could be delayed for several months. While waiting, divorcing spouses can use this time to get better prepared. Make sure you have all of the documents that will be needed for the discovery process and discuss any other issues with your attorney that have not already been covered.

The delay might also present an opportunity to settle some of the major sticking points like parenting plans and property division without the involvement of the courts. This could be accomplished through an alternative process such as arbitration, mediation, or negotiation, all of which can be done remotely through phone or videoconferencing.

As for the future, many experts expect a rise in divorces resulting from the coronavirus shutdown. Couples being isolated for an extended period of time when they are not used to spending that much time together as well as the stress of tighter finances could trigger a lot of couples that may have already been having marital problems to call it quits.

On the other hand, Psychology Today cautions that this event is unprecedented, and we don’t really know what the world will look like when it is all over. Divorces could spike, but then again, we could be looking at another baby boom. Only time will tell.

Child Custody/Visitation

For many parents who are already separated or divorced, COVID-19 has been very disruptive to their parenting plans. The kids are home all day, and some parents are home more after having lost their jobs or started working remotely. For other parents, the coronavirus means working long hours and lots of overtime. This is particularly true if they are front-line workers such as hospital staff, truck drivers, and grocery store workers.

On top of the scheduling issues, there are some families in which the parents do not see the situation the same way. For example, one parent might want to keep the kids at home in keeping with social distancing guidelines, while the other prefers to take them out more because they do not think COVID-19 is all that dangerous.

Parents that suddenly find themselves with custody and visitation schedules that no longer make sense should try to work out a temporary schedule adjustment on their own. If necessary, they may want to get their lawyers involved to negotiate the new schedule on their behalf or at the very least, draw up a temporary agreement to get them through this situation.

Unfortunately, there will be some families in which reaching an agreement on their own is not possible. In such cases, they can petition the court for an emergency proceeding in order to protect the safety and well-being of their children.

Spousal Support/Child Support

We know that the shutdown which has been triggered by the COVID-19 crisis will be devastating financially to a lot of families. As a result, many parents who are paying child support and/or spousal support may see a significant drop in income or even lose their job altogether. In South Carolina, support payments can be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances, and a major change in income (either negative or positive) could certainly be a basis to petition the court for a modification.

This, by the way, could apply to either the paying or receiving spouse. So if, for example, the receiving spouse lost his/her part-time job because of the coronavirus pandemic and the paying spouse’s income did not change, then the receiving spouse may be able to petition for a higher support payment.

Whatever the situation, it is not easy to succeed with a petition for modification. If you are considering going this route, be sure to work with a skilled and knowledgeable family law attorney to help ensure that your petition is prepared properly.

The Nowell Law Firm is Here to Help

As we work our way through the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath, we are all in this together. At the Nowell Law Firm, we are still open and available to help South Carolinians with family legal matters and other legal issues you may have. We are taking all the precautions and practicing social distancing, and we are doing most of our work remotely these days. Still, we are well equipped to help you with your legal issue.

For a consultation with a member of our legal team, message us online or call our office today at (864) 469-2481. We look forward to serving you!