Family Law

Advising Dissolution Clients During COVID-19

COVID 19 has forever changed our lives and our practices. Because of our experience with COVID 19, everything, including consultations, will never be the same. As we all continue to “Shelter in Place” and the stress continues to rise, the divorce inquiry calls (and Zoom meetings) continue to increase. Before moving forward with a divorce filing and to avoid filing remorse, I find myself discussing the three COVID 19 concerns below with clients:

  1. COVID Stress or Typical Divorce: The stress of sheltering in place for an extended period of time can be overwhelming. To avoid COVID filing regret after we return to “normal” life, I want to make sure, that the request to file is not completely derived from COVID stress. Only our clients know the real answer, I just want to make sure that we discuss the possibility.
  2. The Masterplan: The “out of court” plan: If the potential client decides divorce is imminent and the decision to proceed is not solely COVID related, the next hurdle is devising a “master plan” in light of COVID. Most hotel rooms are reserved for “essential” workers, many people are currently unemployed or have reduced income and children are out of school. Most family members are sheltering in place and may not welcome overnight guests at this time. For the unforeseeable future, both parties must consider the impact of separation/divorce on the current family dynamic. I often ask, what is the “the masterplan.” Some families must be reminded to consider the reality of a divorce filing and the immediate impact on the family, especially during this time. A discussion of the “the masterplan” is more important now than before. 
  3. Divorce Filing: So, if I get past the COVID stress concerns, and there is a “masterplan,” I then explain that after the filing of the initial Petition and/or Response, outside of an emergency, there is very little court assistance available to the parties. If the parties are unable to resolve nonemergency issues, the parties may be “stuck” in conflict until a future date. The process will be relatively straightforward if the parties are amicable, but the process will be slow otherwise.

Most of us are dealing with heightened stress and uncertainty. As we all know, stress can cause irrational decisions, such as COVID stress related divorce filings. If COVID is the only reason for such filing, as much as we can, we want to talk our potential clients through the consideration of all scenarios to avoid as many COVID divorce filing regret cases as we possibly can.

Stay home and stay safe!

Demetria Graves, CFLS
Secretary, Family Law Executive Committee of the
California Lawyers Association

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