Unemployment & Slowdown: COVID-19’s Impact on Divorce and Dads

Unemployment & Slowdown: COVID-19’s Impact on Divorce and Dads

The COVID-19 pandemic has left more than 30 million people unemployed. The financial hardship is even tougher if you are going through a divorce during this tumultuous time.

There are millions of divorced dads who can no longer afford
their child support or alimony payments because the pandemic has wrecked their
finances. Perhaps even more concerning is the number of fathers losing access
to their children because of custody exchange complications during stay-at-home
orders.

On April 30, Cordell
& Cordell
hosted a Virtual Town featuring a panel of divorce lawyers
from across the United States who answered questions from viewers about the
divorce issues they are facing during this unprecedented time.

How to file for
divorce during COVID-19

The Coronavirus has closed many family courts, but that does
not mean there is no way to move forward with divorce.

Although you might not be able to appear in court for
in-person hearings and court appearances, you should still be able to file.

“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.”

How to modify support
orders during COVID-19

One of the biggest problems divorced fathers are encountering
is that their income has been dramatically reduced because of the pandemic and
they can no longer afford child support or alimony.

In those instances, it is important to file for a
modification as soon as possible.

“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.”

The courts are unlikely to cut you any slack if you fall
behind on payments, even if it was because of 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.”

Extramarital affairs
during COVID-19

The Virtual Town Hall also briefly touched on the topic of
infidelity during the pandemic and how that can impact the divorce process. An
affair can potentially affect how much alimony is owed. At a time when the
economy is reeling, and employment is tough to come by, that determination can
end up being very 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

The top issue divorcing men are struggling with during the
Coronavirus might be sorting through child custody exchanges while still
following quarantine and stay-at-home orders.

Some dads fear traveling with their children for custody drop-offs
will risk exposing them to the virus. Other fathers are missing out on parenting
time because their ex is withholding custody and using the virus as an excuse.

During the Virtual Town Hall, Cordell & Cordell Regional
Partner Erica Gittings
explained steps to take when debating whether to withhold your child and refuse
to give up custody during the pandemic. She suggested providing written
communication expressing your worries to the other parent and documenting your
actions during this time.

“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 emphasized the importance of consulting with your
divorce attorney before proceeding with any actions outside the guidelines laid
out in your custody order.

“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 key

Repeatedly, the attorneys stressed the importance of being
proactive on family law matters during this time.

Always document any interactions you might have with your ex
regarding co-parenting. Pay what you can in child support and alimony. Stay up
to date on the guidelines your state and local governments provide – especially
as it relates to custody exchanges and modification issues. And contact your divorce attorney
when you are uncertain how to proceed.

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