The title to today’s blog post asks a pretty straightforward question: are you able to get a divorce during the COVID-19 pandemic? That question begs for a yes or no answer. In fact, it can be answered in that fashion. However, if you have spent any time at all around attorneys then you know that our favorite and most frequent response to any question like this is: “It depends.” So, does that mean it’s not going to be a simple process for you to get a divorce from your spouse during these initial months of the global coronavirus pandemic?
First things first, you need to know that only you have to be on board with the divorce for it to go through. That means your spouse may be absolutely against the idea of your getting a divorce but as long as it is something that you want to move forward with and you follow the steps of getting divorced in Texas then you may get divorced. Texas is a “no fault” divorce state, as well. This means that you do not have to specify fault grounds for getting divorced. All you have to do is tell a judge that you have irreconcilable differences and a conflict of personalities. Fault grounds are allowed to be specified in your divorce petition but are not required.
So, if you can get divorced for literally any reason under the sun it shouldn’t be too hard to get this divorce done even in spite of this pandemic, right? Divorces are filed for the most part online. Paper filings at the courthouse are largely a thing of the past. Many counties don’t even accept non-online filings of family law cases. In an age of social distancing the courts should be happy to accept your divorce via the district clerk’s website you would think.
Another aspect of this equation is that family law attorneys are still practicing law and advocating for their clients during this time period. Just because there has been a shutdown of the economy in months past does not mean that the entire world has come to a screeching halt. You are still able to meet with attorneys virtually using the internet and video, as well as over the phone. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan is opening our doors to our employees in recent days and offers free of charge consultations to folks like you who are interesting in learning more about their situation and how a potential divorce could proceed.
How your divorce may look different now than it would have six months ago- or six months in the future
While many of us are returning to our places of work, stores are opening up and many of us are venturing out to restaurants, parks and pools there are certain aspects of our lives that will remain different for a certain period of time. Nobody knows exactly how long that will be but we can that in regard to a divorce your case may feel a little different than it would have had you decided to file in 2019 or to wait until 2021 to move forward with your case.
For one, meeting with an attorney will likely be different. Our law office never stopped meeting with current clients and potential clients despite the difficulties presented by the coronavirus and the shutdowns that came alongside of it. Instead of opening our office six days a week for free of charge consultations with potential clients, we worked with our staff and attorneys to avail themselves to the flexibility that technology offers us. Video conferencing and phone calls took the place of in person meetings with clients and potential clients.
Is meeting with a person virtually the same as meeting with him in person? No, it’s not. Our hope is that we are able to meet with you and your family personally as soon as it is safe to do so. However, until then, we want you to know that we stand with you and your family during these times. Contact us to see how best our office can serve you during this time. If it is your sincere belief that you need to file for divorce right now our office can walk you through that process and stand next to you every step of the way- even if we physically cannot be together.
It may feel strange to talk to someone you’ve never met before about personal matters like your family and marriage. When a potential client comes into the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to discuss their case I do my best to make sure that he or she feels comfortable with me as an individual before we ever start to discuss the legal matters of their situation. When you are not in the same room as that person it can feel strange to open up about your life.
However, even though this is a new thing for everyone involved remember that the end result is what matters the most. That is, doing what is best for you and your family. Understand that communications with our office are confidential- whether they be in person, over the phone or over the computer. Even if you decide not to proceed with a case, or to hire our office the content of your communications with us are to be kept confidential in the future no matter what. While you cannot control every aspect of your life in these tough times you can at least bank on that guarantee.
Wait to go to court, or work on settling your case
Not having ready access to the courts is probably going to be the toughest adjustment for attorneys and clients to become adjusted to as far as the way your divorce will be handled as compared to cases in months past and cases to come in the future. There are three family law courts that are open for hearings in Harris County. Depending on the county where you reside there may be less available options as far as courts are concerned.
We are used to being able to file a request for a hearing and then receive a date almost instantaneously from the coordinator for that court. Now, we are either having to wait weeks for a hearing or are finding out that we cannot even get a hearing depending on the type of matter your hearing is requested for. Emergency issues can still be heard relatively quickly. Many requests by parties are being submitted in writing directly to judges for consideration without a hearing.
Jury trials are not common in family law settings but know also that they will not be held until late summer at the earliest. What impact this virus will have on our courts moving forward is anyone’s guess. We would need to figure out how long the virus will impact us and whether a second wave (as it has been called) will appear. Regardless, if you were banking on receiving a hearing with a judge on any matter related to your case that hope may need to be deferred until the courts either open up more fully or the virus passes us by completely.
In the meantime, you do not need to press the pause button on your case until fears over the coronavirus pass us by. For instance, you may not be aware that the vast majority of divorces in Texas actually settle prior to going to court. Many people envision every divorce being decided by a judge but that is incorrect. Most spouses will settle their case informally or with the assistance of a mediator. You can avoid any disruption to your case by working towards achieving this outcome with your spouse.
For instance, why not talk to your spouse directly about how to work on the final terms of your case? There is nothing stopping you all from communicating even though you have attorneys. Your attorneys can help you tighten up an agreement and draft final orders if you can reach that point. However, don’t view your attorneys as being necessary to coming up with the basic agreement between you and your spouse. Nobody knows your circumstances better than you all.
Many courts will allow you and your spouse to hold hearings via electronic means. Even before the courts open back up you all can at least have your issues heard this way. However, if you can avoid a hearing you should work towards resolving conflicts through negotiations. All parties involved, including the judge, will appreciate your ability and willingness to do so.
What does visitation and possession look like in the age of coronavirus?
This topic was more relevant when there were numerous stay at home orders in place for our region. While Harris County has maintained its stay at home order at least through June 10, many of the surrounding counties have abandoned theirs. Travel is allowed more now than in prior months. Businesses are open and people are headed back to work. Life has, at least in this window of time, returned to normal.
The basics of possession and visitation right now are that you should refer to the orders that you have in place currently to see what you should be doing. The school year is over and that means summertime visitation orders should be referred to. If you are the noncustodial parent (i.e. the parent with whom your children do not reside with primarily during the schoolyear) then you will likely have some extended visitation coming up.
Be sure that you have read your orders recently- especially if this is your first summer managing the changes in visitation that you have seen since your divorce. On the other hand, if you are in the middle of a divorce case then you will need to do one of two thing. If you already have temporary orders in place, then it is your job to follow the custody and visitation orders that you have. Learn what is required of you and ask questions of your attorney if you have any.
In the event that you do not have any temporary orders set up then you have other issues to be concerned with. This would apply to those of you who have just filed for divorce and have not had an opportunity to seriously negotiate with your spouse, attend mediation or do anything else in regard to coming up with orders for the summer. Work with your attorney and your spouse to see what you can come up with in the meantime.
Many times you need to put your own desires aside and just do what you think is best for your children. If your kids need to spend more time at home for summer sports and things of that nature, then your own visitation time may need to take a backseat to those concerns. This is true especially if you are trying to limit their travel. Overall, you do not have to put yourself in a position where you and your spouse are fighting over these issues all summer. Work with him or her to come up with agreement and then decide to follow the agreement.
None of us know how quickly you will be able to access the courts with fewer restrictions. However, that doesn’t mean that you cannot get a divorce that benefits your children as much as possible. Working with an experienced family law attorney is a good place to start.
Questions about the material contained in this 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 are available six days a week for consultations over the phone and via video which are free of charge. We appreciate your interest in this subject and hope you will join us in the future as we share more information about Texas family law.