At first glance, COVID-19 doesn’t appear to have much to do with divorce, but the seriousness of the global concerns over the public health crisis are beginning to show just how far its impact might be felt.
From tourism and professional sports to the Federal Reserve and turbulent financial markets, many aspects of our lives are feeling the effects of what the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global pandemic. Though pandemics do not generally fall under the purvey of matrimonial law, attorneys who practice divorce and family law deal with many issues that may very well be impacted by the coronavirus and its rippling implications.
That includes matters of divorce, child custody and co-parenting, finances, and property division.
Marriage, Divorce & COVID-19
Family Courts: Are Courts Closed For Coronavirus?
For those with legal matters currently pending in local Family Courts, or for anyone who anticipated a case or had pre-existing plans for bringing one, the coronavirus outbreak presents very real and very practical concerns.
At a time when health officials are advising people to curtail their social activities – businesses, schools, and major events are being closed, reorganized away from the public, or cancelled and moved months in advance – many wonder whether government buildings and courts will be closed as well.
As of now, courts in Tampa and the state of Florida are currently open for normal business. However, the Florida Supreme Court has placed an emergency advisory on its website informing the public that officials are “actively planning and preparing Florida courts to respond to the new coronavirus.”
The same holds true for Robert Sparks Attorneys; our firm remains open for business and welcomes calls from residents throughout Tampa Bay and the surrounding areas regarding potential legal matters 24/7. Our team is also closely following public health and legal updates related to the coronavirus. It doesn’t get more serious than this.
Contact Robert Sparks Attorneys to discuss your legal needs with a member of our team. FL Courts’ Emergency Preparedness webpage is also updated frequently with information related to COVID-19 for Judges, Court personnel, and the public.
Child Custody & Timesharing & Co-Parenting
Another practical and more immediate concern arising from the coronavirus is its impact on child custody, visitation, timesharing and co-parenting.
In Florida, child custody may be awarded to one parent (sole custody) or to both parents (joint custody).
- With sole custody, one parent gets legal and physical custody of a child, meaning they have the sole right to make decisions about important matters for their children.
- With joint custody, sometimes referred to as share parental responsibility or timesharing, both parents have the right to make important decisions about their child, and any decision about important matters affecting the child must be approved by both parents.
Because Florida Courts favor co-parenting and timesharing, many parents share responsibilities for making decisions regarding their child. Of course, this can and does lead to conflict between parents about what’s in the best interests of the child. Amid coronavirus concerns, potential for conflict can be heightened, especially for issues involving:
- School closures
- Health Care
- Geographic restrictions / international travel
As attorneys who routinely represent parents in custody proceedings, we know communication and compromise can go a long way in avoiding conflict – which can be disruptive to children, and costly for parents. Parents who share custody can minimize exposure to such conflict by communicating effectively about changing schedules, event cancellations, and other changes to schedules in possession and access. For parents with sole custody, following court orders regarding any visitation with the non-custodial parent is required unless it’s not in a child’s best interests (i.e. places the child in danger) or Courts provide guidance otherwise.
While some situation may warrant legal action – such as temporary injunctions or court order modifications – many can be effectively resolved without the need for litigation. Parents can still work with attorneys to assist them in negotiating efficient and cost-effective resolutions out of court, either through mutual agreements, or alternative dispute resolution processes such as mediation or collaborative law.
Because divorce is a personal choice, it happens for many different reasons, and at any time. Although divorce attorneys do see some seasonality in terms of divorce rates (i.e. some people choose to wait until after the holidays, or until their children are out of school for summer break), there’s no standard time to divorce, and no reason why any person must wait or “hold on” due to external forces beyond their control.
Though self-imposed quarantines due to COVID19 or a lack of extracurricular activities may not negatively impact every marriage, they certainly can for some – especially when there is pre-existing conflict. Other side effects of the coronavirus – including its impact on financial markets – may also add additional strains to a marriage that prove to be the breaking point for some couples.
Whatever the underlying reason may be, it’s important for anyone contemplating divorce to prepare and plan ahead, and position themselves for favorable results by working with experienced attorneys to protect their rights and get serious results.
The Economy: Finances & Divorce
With financial markets feeling the full effects of coronavirus concerns, the global economy is bracing for an unpredictable and unstable time. In the U.S., where the stock market has recorded some of its most volatile trading days in history, U.S. Treasury bond yields reach all-time lows, and businesses reel from closures and tightened consumer spending, the impact of the coronavirus has opened the door to many anxieties and concerns.
Financial issues are a leading cause of divorce – and there is real potential for the economic repercussions brought about by the coronavirus to have a marked effect on marriages. If you have been contemplating divorce, or find yourself facing one amid tough financial times, it’s important to get a grasp on your finances.
- Knowing What You Have: In many marriages, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to handle the finances, including paying the bills and balancing the checkbook. While that may be a workable solution during a marriage, it can lead to unexpected issues during divorce – including hidden assets. Of course, hiding assets in divorce comes with consequences – but is can and does happen. To prevent this, or to deal with it effectively when it becomes an issue, there are a few key steps to take:
- Familiarize yourself with the finances, and be involved in how they’re used and accounted for leading up to a divorce.
- Determine what’s separate property (generally, that which was acquired prior to marriage, or received by inheritance or gift), and what’s community property (anything acquired during the course of marriage). Community is subject to property division in divorce.
- Should money go missing, or differentiating between separate and marital property becomes convoluted, experienced attorneys can help trace funds or assets and determine their separate or community property characteristics.
- Stocks & Retirement: Markets are in turmoil, and many portfolios are taking major hits. Though looking at the “big picture” is common advice, it doesn’t always ease concerns, especially for those approaching retirement amid a “gray divorce.” If you or your spouse have retirement accounts established during marriage and / or funded with money earned during the course of your marriage, it’s divisible in divorce. Though 401Ks, IRAs, and other stocks commonly owned by investors may be struggling in the current economic climate, they’re no less important to a person’s future financial health. As such, protecting them in divorce, and valuing them accurately, will be a critical focus.
- Controlling Costs in Divorce: Finances can be a major point of contention in divorce, both for average earners and high-net-worth couples. While the added strains of a down financial market may exacerbate the desire to protect assets, it’s important to step back and evaluate what’s at stake, and the costs that come with litigation. While some situations may leave no other option, others likely provide spouses with ample opportunity to negotiate and structure mutually satisfactory settlements. Is there a particular asset one spouse wants, such as the marital home? Perhaps its value can be offset in exchange for other assets or a share of community property interest something else. Experienced attorneys can help you explore your available options and ways to control costs in divorce (such as through out-of-court negotiation, mediation, or collaborative law) so you can make an informed decision about what you want to accomplish.
Have questions about a divorce or family law matter? Get serious and call Robert Sparks Attorneys to help 24/7. Contact us to speak with an attorney. We proudly serve clients across Tampa and South Florida.