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How the COVID-19 Pandemic has Slowed the Divorce Process

It has been said before, And I can't say that I disagree, that we live in a microwave culture. No, I'm not referring to the household appliance that cooks are bags of popcorn and heat a cup of coffee. What I mean by microwave culture is our society's desire to get things done quickly. Sometimes, fast isn't even good enough for us. We want things done quicker than quickly, usually depending upon how unpleasant the experience is that we want to be over with. If you have to go to the doctor's office and sit in the waiting room to wait to get an exam or a shot of some sort, then the time waiting can be pure agony.

Technology has only intensified our expectation that all areas of our life should accommodate our desire for quick results. All you need to do is perform a simple Google search for immediate results, weight loss, debt relief, or even a divorce, and you'll see what I mean. These experiences that can be both transformative and beneficial for you and your family are expected to be done in the blink of an eye. If that can't be done, well, we are not going to be happy about it.

This is a problem that we family law attorneys run into with some frequency. Nobody involved in a family law case is excited at the prospect of spending months on end engaged in Emotionally challenging and financially expensive legal battles sending you in and out of the courtrooms of Southeast Texas. Of course, not every family law case is alike, but many of them require a great deal of commitment in terms of time, money, and effort. When you stop to think about it, it makes sense that this is the case. After all, you are asking a court to divorce you and end your marriage or two to make significant changes in your child's life and your family. Maybe a slow cooker is more appropriate than a microwave, at least in the world of family law.

With all that said, no attorney and no client once a divorce takes any longer than it has to. There is an old criticism of attorneys who bill by the hour that the attorney would prefer for the case to go on and on into the future to continue to build a client for all their worth. Meanwhile, the client's life worsens and worsens in the divorce is nowhere closer to completion despite the client's efforts. The thought is that the greeting attorney delays the case and continues to milk the client for every last cent.

However, I am here to tell you that attorneys do not function this way. Yes, family law attorneys do bill by the hour. Yes, the longer your case goes, the more expensive it tends to be. However, an attorney would prefer a fair, satisfactory, and efficient chance to an unfair unhappy, and lengthy divorce case. Why is this? Don't attorneys want to make as much money as possible?

In reality, an attorney wants to work as much as possible on their clients' cases as they can to ensure a fair and satisfactory result for their client. That does not necessarily mean billing as many hours as possible or taking as much time as possible to complete the case. Often, you reach a point of diminishing returns where access to work on a patient does not benefit the client at all; it only manages to stir up hatred between the parties. We've all heard the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. We see that sportswear teams that play one another all the time frequently tend to get chippy and overly aggressive with one another. This is due to frustration at seeing that same team or same opponent over and over again. In my opinion, this happens in divorce cases as well.

Instead, a divorce attorney seeks to minimize disruption to a case and would much prefer smooth sailing for the client. Yes, this means Fewer hours spent working on the matter and likely less money to build for that client, but it allows the attorney to spend more time working on more issues to better ends for each client they represent. Despite popular conceptions about attorneys in the way they work with clients, the vast majority of attorneys do not want your divorce to drag on and on. There may be times where divorce needs to last longer than others have given certain circumstances. Still, on the whole, a family law practitioner would prefer an efficient divorce over a lengthy divorce.

COVID-19 and its impact on the length of Texas divorces

That brings us to the subject of today's blog post. In Mid-March, The United States was confronted by a pandemic that had primarily impacted the eastern hemisphere. The coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it has become known, had crept up on our shores and began to infect American citizens. As a result, the government took some pretty aggressive tactics to stem the growth of the virus and best ensure the health of our citizens.

Scenes from major cities on the East Coast, specifically New York City, led local and state officials across the rest of the country to almost immediately shut down large gatherings of people and issue de facto quarantine orders. These quarantine orders went into place quickly and left few exceptions for those who needed to be out and about to work or obtain medical care. Everyone else was relegated to working from home or doing their best to make ends meet while they were unable to work at all.

The judicial system in the legal community as a whole we're certainly not immune from these dramatic changes to our society. When I first read that the Harris County courts were suspending jury trials until further notice, I knew that this was no ordinary circumstance that we were all going to encounter. After the suspension of jury trials, government buildings, including the ports, began to close their doors to the public. Attorneys in parties could not enter the courthouse, and even the employees of these government agencies and departments are now working from home. So long as the government perceived a threat of varying degrees to its people, we would all be forced to change our lives, at least temporarily.

While the courts were not wholly closed, much of the business of these courthouses would at least be slowed to a certain extent. For instance, the family courts of Harris County were not completely closed down, but only three quarts were open for business, including hearings. With limited docket space and employees who could handle the various matters related to the lawsuits filed in each court, it was apparent from the beginning that there would be some delays in four divorces in our area. The extent of those delays can best be understood in the context of how long a divorce in Texas typically lasts.

A brief timeline for a typical Texas divorce

If you have ever read our blog before, you know that I always say that there are no two divorces precisely alike. There are unique aspects of every divorce case, and those unique aspects can both serve to lengthen and shorten the time that a divorce lasts. With that said, let's discuss a typical timeline for a Texas divorce regardless of whether or not a pandemic is brewing in the background.

From the date on which your divorce is filed with the court, there is a requirement in Texas that at least 60 days pass before your divorce can finish. There are exceptions to his rule if family violence involved would make a lengthier divorce dangerous for a spouse or their family. However, for the most part, a divorce in Texas will last at least 60 days. The reason for this is that the state legislature wants to make sure that when Texans file for divorce, they have an opportunity to decide whether or not the divorce is actually what they want. If reconciliation is possible, then a 60-day waiting period seemed to allow the parties time to facilitate that kind of reconciliation.

There are two phases to a Texas divorce. The first phase is what I like to call the temporary orders phase. During this time, the parties to a divorce will negotiate for temporary orders, which are placeholder orders that will allow the parties to pay their bills, develop a provisional visitation schedule with their children and ensure that all parties to the case can begin adjusting to life and separate households with separate incomes.

Once the parties to a divorce have agreed on temporary orders or have gone to a temporary orders hearing, and a judge issued temporary orders, the parties would then be able to begin thinking about final orders. As the term suggests, final orders are those orders you, your spouse, and your children will live under once the divorce has been finalized. Last orders encompass many of the same issues as were decided in temporary orders but will also seek to establish permanent visitation schedules, endless amounts of child support, and spousal support (if any) and will also divide up your community estate.

All in all, this process can take anywhere from two months to six months or longer. There is a great deal of negotiation That goes into arriving at agreeable final orders. Often, the parties need to attend at least one session of mediation to complete their case. A six-month divorce, in my opinion, Is pretty typical. Still, if you and your spouse can negotiate well and play nice in the metaphorical sandbox, then your divorce may be done sooner than you would have anticipated.

Will COVID-19 delay your 2020 divorce?

The reality of our situation is that we cannot say for sure whether or not the courtroom shutdowns will have a demonstrable impact on the length of your divorce. I would tell you that you and your spouse will have a more significant effect on your divorce and its size than a virus will. Suppose you and your spouse disagree on even minor points in your divorce, violate temporary orders with impunity, and generally cannot work with one another in your attorneys. In that case, your case will probably be delayed. However, this would have been the case had there never been a coronavirus.

On the other hand, if you and your spouse can work through issues together, resolve parenting problems by co-parenting, and generally seek to find a middle ground and consensus before resorting to finding name-calling, then your divorce should not be delayed too much the pandemic. The bottom line is the more you and your spouse rely upon a judge to resolve your problems, the more significant impact the pandemic may have on your case. Suppose you can instead rely upon negotiation and utilizing your attorneys and a mediator to help you develop practical solutions to your problems. In that case, you are much more likely to see your divorce completed in a more expedited fashion.

Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultation six days a week. These consultations can be held in person at our office, over the phone, or via video. Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us today, and we hope that you will be back tomorrow as we share unique content with our community regarding the world of Texas family law.

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