As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into May, more Americans are facing financial hardship. More than 30 million people are unemployed in the United States due to the pandemic. Those financial woes are magnified for men who are facing divorce during this uncertain time.
Many divorced guys can no longer afford their child support or alimony payments because of the pandemic. Others are facing child custody challenges as they attempt to navigate custodial exchanges through stay-at-home orders.
On April 30, Cordell & Cordell hosted a Virtual Town Hall featuring a panel of divorce attorneys from across the country who answered questions from viewers about the family law challenges they are facing.
Filing for Divorce During COVID-19
Although the Coronavirus has shut down many family courts, but that does not necessarily mean that you must wait until the pandemic has passed to move forward with divorce.
In fact, although you might be limited as far as making appearances for in-person hearings, you shouldn’t have any trouble filing.
“In Florida, the courts are closed to the general public, meaning that you can’t walk into the court and file an action, unless it’s an emergency,” Cordell & Cordell Florida Litigation Manager Marc Cohen said. “But they are open, in terms of us [attorneys] being able to file actions, being able to get hearings before judges.”
Modifying Support Orders During COVID-19
One of the primary problems many divorced dads are facing right now is that their financial situation has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic and they are no longer able to afford their monthly child support or alimony payments.
In those cases, it is vital that you act quickly to file for a modification or else you risk falling into debt.
“Whether you are looking to modify support or maintenance, due to a job loss or you’re just starting out on a divorce, it becomes especially important to modify if you’re now collecting unemployment and you have had a significant decrease in your income,” Cordell & Cordell Regional Partner Bridget Landry said.
“In Minnesota, the support modification, which includes spousal maintenance or alimony, and child support, are retroactive from the date they are served. So, if already have a decrease in income, it’s very important to get that motion served, as soon as possible, because even though your court date may not be a month, or two, or three from now, the retroactivity will go back to the date of service.”
It is vital to file for a modification as quickly as possible as the courts are unlikely to give you any leeway if you fall behind on payments, even if it was due to the pandemic.
“When you say to judges ‘Well, it was Coronavirus. I didn’t do anything,’ it’s not going to be an excuse,” Cordell & Cordell CEO/Managing Partner Scott Trout said. “We want to give the judge the maximum latitude across the country, where ever you may be, to make that order retroactive and apply toward payments that you couldn’t make.”
Infidelity During COVID-19
The Virtual Town Hall also touched on the issues arising due to infidelity during the COVID-19 pandemic and how that is affecting the divorce process. An affair can potentially impact how much alimony is owed.
With so many other factors putting guys in financial risk, that determination can end up being extremely costly.
“New York, like many states, is considered no fault, which means you don’t have to show that somebody had an affair, in order to get a divorce,” Cordell & Cordell New York Litigation Manager Asa Neff said. “But it is certainly taken into consideration for a lot of purposes. It can have a financial impact, certainly if you are spending money on an extramarital affair. If that’s found out, a judge can order that that money come back in and have to be redistributed and repaid to the marital estate.
“If there are issues of custody in a case, a judge is going to look at your behavior and make a decision about whether or not that should impact the time you’re going to have with your children.”
Child Custody During COVID-19
Perhaps the No. 1 issue divorcing men are struggling with during the Coronavirus is figuring out how to navigate custody exchanges through quarantine and stay-at-home orders.
Some fathers are worried about traveling and exposing their children to the virus, but they are also concerned with how breaking from their custody order could impact their right to future parenting time.
During the Virtual Town Hall Cordell & Cordell Regional Partner Erica Gittings laid out steps to take when considering to withhold your child and refuse a custody exchange during the pandemic. She recommended having written communication expressing your concerns to the other parent documenting your actions.
“Document what you are doing to make sure that you are following all of the Governor’s orders for your state and making sure you’re following all of the social distancing requirements,” Ms. Gittings said. “Also make sure to document any evidence you may have that your co-parent is not following the isolation orders or the social distancing orders.”
She also recommended contacting a divorce attorney before proceeding with any actions outside the guidelines laid out in your custody agreement.
“In the state of Wisconsin, we have the statute, a motion to enforce placement, and if you withhold the children and the court finds out that it was intentional and unreasonable, you could be subjected to paying the other side’s attorney’s fees,” she said. “So it is important to put all of your ducks in a row, in order to show the courts your concerns, which are real and are expressed appropriately, and that you’re taking the right steps.”
Proactiveness is Vital
All of the attorneys participating in the Virtual Town Hall stressed the importance of being proactive with regard to family law issues during this time.
Take steps to document any actions or interactions you may have with your co-parent. Pay what you can in child and spousal support. Learn more about the guidelines of your state, as it relates to custodial exchanges and retroactive modification dates. Contact a family law attorney and have actions filed that can assist you and your family, as you face the pandemic together.