Divorce in the Pandemic Pandemonium

Legal Eagles: Navigating Separation, Divorce, and Co-Parenting Issues During COVID-19

So many things are out of everyone’s control right now. Neither divorce nor co-parenting are “one-size-fits-all” operations even under the best of normal, non-pandemic circumstances. Now there are new rules and changes to keep up with in the midst of chaos.
If you have questions, you are not alone. Here are some answers that can help you move forward.

Is the state courthouse even open to hear family law matters?

Many states are operating under drastically different schedules for courthouse business. In North Carolina, few state courtrooms are in session, and even those are operating on a limited basis. Most hearings and legal matters will be scheduled or rescheduled to June 1 or after.

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What if I have an emergency for the court to hear?

There are special circumstances for emergency matters, including domestic violence protection orders and temporary restraining orders. The courts are also hearing other emergency matters affecting a person’s right to due process of the law. Each jurisdiction within North Carolina has some authority to create its own rules, including some ability to conduct hearings remotely using online video conferencing.

As forecasts about the spread of COVID-19 are changing rapidly, so are the rules and restrictions of courthouse matters. Visit the to find out more about what is happening in your county.

Is travel allowed so I can see my child on my regular visitation schedule?

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide shelter-in-place order currently in effect in North Carolina specifically permits travel to follow a custody schedule. If you are outside of North Carolina, check on stay-at-home orders in your state.

What if I don’t want my ex to see our child because a reason related to COVID-19? Or if my ex is refusing my visitation rights because of COVID?

Co-parents may have different opinions on what social distancing should look like, such as one parent continuing to go to work outside the home, allowing children to interact with peers, considering the schedule of step-siblings, or inviting dating partners in the home.

As in most co-parenting issues, communication is key. As states start to make plans to re-open, even if in phases, there will be new rules, but it does not necessarily mean your co-parent’s opinion has changed.

Denying parenting time because of COVID-19 could have negative ramifications in the future. Your decision (or your ex’s decision) to do so could be brought before a judge in the future, and it could be viewed as a direct violation of a court order.

The effects on children of being denied time with a parent can be extremely detrimental to their well-being. The N.C. Family Court Advisory Commission in April 2020 with the goal of encouraging families to follow their existing custody plan, whether in an agreement or court order.

For more resources for parents related to COVID-19, including information on managing children’s mental health needs during this time, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

Do I still have to pay child support or alimony if I’ve been furloughed or laid off? Or can I expect my ex to still have to pay me child support or alimony?

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Whether you receive child support or alimony or pay it, you could feel the impact of a decrease in income as a result of COVID-19. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits is surging, and there can be delays in receiving those funds. In North Carolina, both child support and alimony obligations are modifiable based on changed circumstances, and an involuntary loss of income resulting from a loss of employment may qualify.

Good record-keeping is key. If you wish to request a change in your payments due to lost income, you will need to document the changes in income and present supporting documentation as to why the changes occurred. The court closures prevent any quick hearing on these modifications, however. Consult with a family lawyer to maximize the relief you could be entitled to.
Child support may also be modifiable based on a change in the needs of the child. School closures and changes in the availability and cost of child care can have a significant effect. Keep in mind that automatically govern any child support legal proceeding unless the judge states otherwise.

I’m thinking about separating or divorcing my spouse, but I’m in a panic about the stock market and dividing our assets. What do I need to know?

Watching the stock market closely these days is not for the faint of heart. You may be especially worried if you are separated or planning a divorce and wondering what your finances will look like afterwards.

The court will divide your property between you and your ex. In North Carolina, the equitable distribution laws take into account any increase or decrease in the value of your marital property from the date that you separated from your ex. Among other factors, the court will consider changes in the value of investment or retirement assets, and the value of a business if either of you own one.

I’ve been involved in a knock-down, drag-out legal fight with my ex, but everything has stopped in court because of COVID. Are there alternatives to get things resolved faster?

As if there are not enough to work hard to settle your divorce issues outside of court, the fact that it is impossible (in most instances) to get into a courtroom right now is a pretty compelling reason to give settlement talks a try. Essentially shutting down the state courts for two plus months will absolutely create a backlog on the courts’ dockets.

Now is the time to take that deep breath, put the past behind you, and keep an eye on the high road. You will gain much freedom and control if you can settle your case now and avoid the delays and over-crowded courtrooms. , mediation, and even arbitration allow for an easier, quicker resolution, and all of that work can be conducted via online videoconferencing right now. Talk with an experienced family lawyer to see what options may work for you.

Lauren V. Lewis is a family law attorney with Essex Richards, P.A. in Charlotte. Her work involves issues of child custody, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, separation agreements, premarital agreements, postnuptial agreements, and other family law issues. She is active in collaborative family law and a member of Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals. Lewis is a certified Family Law Specialist, a certified Parenting Coordinator, guardian ad litem, and an active volunteer with the Council for Children’s Rights.

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