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Can I Seek a Divorce During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic in New York?

by | Apr 2, 2020 | divorce, News and Events

Many Americans have had their lives turned upside down as a result of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Last week, 3.2 million Americans filed for unemployment marking the highest in a single week in U.S. history. Schools are closed and parents are home full-time with their children. April 1st marked the start of a new month with millions of Americans out of work, likely to default on their mortgages, student loans, car payments, and utility accounts, placing even more strain on the financial system and the economy. If you were considering divorce before the pandemic, the stress has either reaffirmed your decision or perhaps is giving you second thoughts. Undoubtedly, the mental, emotional, and financial stress being caused by the pandemic will result in the breakdown of many marriages.

Court Shut Down Does Not Mean You Cannot Proceed with Divorce

In New York, the courts are shut down except for essential filings for emergency situations. Simply filing for a divorce does not satisfy the essential filing requirement. Does that mean that you cannot proceed with the divorce at this time? The answer is No, and I will cover your options in this Article. 

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Two Types of Divorce: Uncontested & Contested

To understand your options, you first have to understand that there are two types of divorces; contested and uncontested. An uncontested divorce is one in which the couple resolves all of the ancillary issues without ever going to court. In every divorce case, the ancillary issues include spousal support, and property distribution which involves the resolution of the assets and the debts of the marriage. If the couple has children, they must also resolve custody, parenting time and child support.

On the other hand, a contested divorce is one in which the couple is unable to resolve one or more of the ancillary issues, in which case, the couple will eventually proceed to court and ask a judge to resolve those issues for them.

Several Options for Uncontested Divorce

If a couple wishes to have an uncontested divorce, the couple has several options available to them.

First, the couple could try to work out the divorce for themselves. If the couple is able to resolve all of the issues that I have set forth above, the couple could hire a singular attorney to prepare their divorce papers and oversee the signing and filing with the court.

The second option available to the couple is divorce mediation. Divorce mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process by which a couple works in collaboration with a neutral third-party, the mediator, to identify the issues involved in their divorce, identify their goals, and to come up with a way to resolve the issues in favor of their goals. If the mediator is an attorney, the mediator will prepare the resulting divorce papers and assist the couple with the filing. If the mediator is not an attorney, the mediator will usually provide a referral to one.

Finally, if one or both of the parties prefers to be represented by an attorney, one or both of the parties could engage an attorney to represent him/her in an out of court settlement of their divorce case. This is commonly referred to as a collaborative divorce.

Take Advantage of Technology to Prepare Your Uncontested Divorce

Even though the courts are closed except for essential emergency filings, a couple seeking a divorce at this time could easily endeavor to have an uncontested divorce. There’s nothing preventing a couple from working out a divorce amongst themselves. If the couple is looking to mediate, technology allows the couple to work with a mediator over the Internet through video conferencing apps such as Zoom and Skype or even FaceTime. The same technology allows a couple who prefers to hire an attorney to work with their attorney through the Internet to reach a resolution of their case.

You May Be Able to Save Money on Your Divorce by Acting Now

Because most attorneys at this time are working from home and prevented from making court appearances, Divorce and Family Law Attorneys are finding themselves with plenty of time to assist couples and draft paperwork. A savvy couple could take advantage of the situation and perhaps negotiate reduced legal fees for these uncontested services and will find that their attorneys will be ideally suited to help them resolve their case over the upcoming weeks while the court system is closed and having their paperwork ready to be filed once the courts resume their normal operations.

Get Ahead of the Game, Start Working on Your Contested Divorce Now

If the couple is heading down a path to a contested divorce, this does not mean that the couple cannot begin the process with their attorneys at this time. There are many steps in resolving a contested divorce, pleadings and court appearances are just a small part of the process. Most of the work is done in the discovery phase where the attorneys work with their clients to investigate and discover the finances of the marriage. With the courts being closed at the present time, Attorneys have more than enough time to conduct a financial investigation of the other parties’ assets, order appraisals of homes, vehicles, businesses, etc., and even subpoena bank records. When the court resumes its normal functions, couples engaging in the process now will be ahead of the game.

New York Courts Are Open for Essential & Emergency Filings

As mentioned earlier, the courts are open for essential filings and emergency filings. Therefore, if an individual about to go through the divorce process find themselves in a tenuous or abusive situation, or one in which the other spouse is preventing them from seeing their children or is withholding financial support, any one of those scenarios would fit the definition of an essential filing and an attorney could help that individual navigate the court process and file the appropriate emergency paperwork with the court seeking immediate relief.

What Does This Mean for Your New York or Long Island Divorce?

None of the executive orders enacted thus far prevent a couple from engaging in an uncontested or even a contested divorce. If you are in trouble in a tenuous or abusive situation, or, your children are being withheld from you or your spouse is refusing to provide much needed financial support, immediate relief is available from the courts. If you have any questions during this difficult time, our office is open remotely, and we are available to answer and address any questions or concerns you may have. If you need find yourself needing advice or assistance at this time, do not hesitate to call us here at Hornberger Verbitsky, P.C. at 631-923-1910.


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