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Divorce During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has the world in an unprecedented state of uncertainty and instability. Six counties around the San Francisco Bay Area were among the first to shelter in place starting March 16 and the order was recently extended to May 1. A few days later, the entire state of California joined suit. We’ve even moved the federal income tax day back three months, the first time this has occurred on a national scale. But relationships don’t hold like paperwork can, and in times of uncertainty, it’s often reassuring to know your full set of options. 
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If you’re already in the process of getting separated or divorced, paying or receiving support, co-parenting, or establishing a custody arrangement in California, you probably have many questions. We will answer as many as we can anticipate now and will update this page as new decisions are made and published or as things settle down and reopen. 

As of April 28, 2020, the latest news from the courts is Emergency Rule 13. This rule allows you to start the paperwork on a child support or spousal support request—and means that these requests will be effectively “backdated”—but it does not indicate when the courts will open to hear cases.

You can click directly on a question and it will take you to an answer that’s current as of time of publication. And if you have any questions not addressed here, please contact us directly. We’ll respond as quickly as we can and update this post as new information becomes available. 
Can I file for divorce while we are sheltering-in-place due to COVID-19?

What if I don’t want to move forward with my divorce right now?
How will shelter-in-place impact my date of separation?

Can I file for divorce while we are sheltering-in-place due to COVID-19?

Yes. At present, most California family law courts are accepting filings via a dropbox to protect judicial officers and courthouse staff. Most courts are treating the time they are closed due to COVID-19 like an extended “holiday,” which means the clock for your ex-spouse’s response does not start ticking until after the courts are up and operational again. 
As during non-COVID-19 times, the best time to file is situation-specific, so you should consult with an attorney. 
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What if I don’t want to move forward with my divorce right now?

If you currently have a divorce (dissolution of marriage) pending, nothing will be finalized by California family law courts until after the state determines the danger from COVID-19 has passed. Simply put: You don’t need to do anything at this time if you want to pause your divorce proceedings. If you had a scheduled hearing, the court has likely already “stayed” (delayed) that appointment by a set amount of time, which may be extended again. 
Can I reduce my support payments if I lose my job due to COVID-19?

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How will shelter-in-place impact my date of separation?

It depends. In California, your date of separation reflects the date that two important factors occur simultaneously: (1) you demonstrate that the marital relationship is irrevocably over and (2) objectively speaking, your behavior supports this. The good news is that you don’t have to be living separately to be separated. So you can be sheltering in place together—even eating from the same refrigerator—and still be demonstrably separated. But a firm and clear date of separation may impact your division of assets, so tread lightly here. An attorney will be able to help you understand the specific boundaries to consider. 
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Can I reduce my support payments if I lose my job due to COVID-19?

Most likely, but maybe not immediately. Let’s take both parts of this answer in turn.

Emergency Rule 13, issued April 20, 2020, now allows you to start your child support or spousal support case even while courts are closed. This means that any requests for a change will be effectively “backdated” when the court is able to hear your case. 

Will you be able to reduce your support payments if you lose your job? 

Yes, if your monthly income goes down, the income of your ex-spouse (or the parent of your child, in the case of child support) stays the same.

Emergency Rule 13, issued April 20, 2020 now allows you to start your child support or spousal support case even while courts are closed. This means that any requests for a change will be effectively “backdated” when the court is able to hear your case. 

Will you be able to reduce support payments immediately?

Probably not—at least not formally. Most courts in California are closed except for emergency filings and hearings (think domestic violence cases). But if you lose your job due to COVID-19, you have a few options:
Can I receive more spousal or child support if I lose my job due to COVID-19?

  • You can negotiate informally with your ex-spouse or the parent of your child to reduce support payments. Online calculators can help you determine a ballpark amount, depending on your income. Spousal support is less straight-forward, so a mediator or attorney can help advise you with more formal tools. 
  • You can work telephonically with a mediator or private judge to establish a reasonable temporary support amount. 
  • You can hire an attorney to negotiate and establish a reasonable support amount until you’re back on your feet.
  • If all else fails, you do need to file a request with the Court (“Request For Order”) asking the Court to modify support no later than the date of the filing, so once you do have a hearing, the Court can retroactively modify support. Most courts are taking new filings–the Court date may be many months in the future, but you will have secured your retroactivity date.

Emergency Rule 13, issued April 20, 2020 now allows you to start your child support or spousal support case even while courts are closed. This means that any requests for a change will be effectively “backdated” when the court is able to hear your case. 

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Can I receive more spousal or child support if I lose my job due to COVID-19?

Most likely, but maybe not immediately. Let’s take both parts of this answer in turn. 

Emergency Rule 13, issued April 20, 2020 now allows you to start your child support or spousal support case even while courts are closed. This means that any requests for a change will be effectively “backdated” when the court is able to hear your case. 

Will you be able to seek more support if you lose your job? 

Yes, if your monthly income goes down, the income of your ex-spouse (or the parent of your child, in the case of child support) stays the same.
My ex- and I have been coparenting. How will COVID-19 our child custody arrangement?

Emergency Rule 13, issued April 20, 2020 now allows you to start your child support or spousal support case even while courts are closed. This means that any requests for a change will be effectively “backdated” when the court is able to hear your case. 
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Will you be able to increase support payments immediately?

Probably not—at least not formally. Most courts in California are closed except for emergency filings and hearings (think domestic violence cases). But if you lose your job due to COVID-19, you have a few options:

  • You can negotiate informally with your ex-spouse or the parent of your child to increase support payments. Online calculators can help you determine a ballpark amount for child support, depending on your income. Spousal support is less straight-forward, so a mediator or attorney can help advise you with more formal tools. 
  • You can work telephonically with a mediator or private judge to establish a reasonable temporary support amount. 
  • You can hire an attorney to negotiate and establish a reasonable support amount until you’re back on your feet.
  • If all else fails, you do need to file a request with the Court (“Request For Order”) asking the Court to modify support no later than the date of the filing, so once you do have a hearing, the Court can retroactively modify support. Most courts are taking new filings–the Court date may be many months in the future, but you will have secured your retroactivity date.

I have an active case. Will the court still hear my case?
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I have an attorney. Will they still work for me during shelter in place?

My ex- and I have been co-parenting. How will COVID-19 impact our child custody arrangement?

To be clear, your current custody order is still active and enforceable.  The “shelter in place” mandate does allow custodial exchanges between parents.  However, the courts tend to look favorably upon short- and long-term arrangements made in the best interest of the child. 
Where do I look for the latest information about my divorce, custody, or support case?
If you’re able to make hand-offs safe and secure, and everyone is limiting their social cohort, then continuing with the co-parenting arrangements as usual is best. While children are out of school, stability and predictability and time with both caring parents is important, and you should not withhold custody time from the other parent. 
If, however, you decide it’s not safe and healthy to continue with co-parenting hand-offs while we are still sheltering-in-place, you are likely not setting a precedent that will impact your physical or legal custody arrangements. An attorney will be able to advise you on your particular circumstances and legal ramifications.
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I have an active case. Will the court still hear my case?

Yes, but it’s unclear when. The only exception to that is for domestic violence cases or a request for a restraining order or other emergency hearings. In addition, most previously-scheduled family law hearings for the Bay Area are being “vacated” (cancelled) and will be rescheduled once the Courts are up and running again.
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I have an attorney. Will they still work for me during shelter in place?

They should. We recognize that relationships, marriages, and raising children is only harder in the wake of COVID-19. Your attorney should be answering your phone calls and returning your emails like normal. If you are concerned about your attorney, we suggest you call their office line. Most law firms have someone answering the phones during regular business hours who can steer you in the right direction. 
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Where do I look for the latest information about my divorce, custody, or support case? 

If you have an attorney, your best bet is to start with them. They will be following the news from the Courts closely and will be able to tell you what impact COVID-19 has on your particular case. For information about how the Superior Court for your county is responding, choose your county in the left-hand column of this listing of California courts. Most court home pages have an alert about their response to COVID-19 at the top of the page. And to learn more about COVID-19 and how best to protect yourself, please visit the CDC’s website
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At Van Voorhis & Sosna, we know COVID-19 is a challenging time. We are prepared to help you navigate these questions and offer legal advice and representation based on integrity, trust, and understanding. Contact us today, or call 415.274.2530 to schedule a free legal consultation.

The content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information, and you should contact an attorney to obtain advice regarding your particular issues or problems. Use of and access to this website do not create an attorney-client relationship between Van Voorhis & Sosna and the reader.

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