Divorce in the Age of COVID-19

Divorce in the Age of COVID-19

If you are divorcing, or planning on getting a divorce, or thinking about getting a divorce, the pandemic is not the end of the world. It does not make divorcing impossible. The court systems are functioning, though a lot of processes have changed because of the pandemic and the need to limit personal contact.

Both King and Snohomish courts have opened up access to the court system. Both counties have prioritized the kinds of cases they will hear, and simply suspended, or limited, all the other kinds of motions and hearings. Some trials are still suspended.  For the near future (perhaps for the next 3-4 months, depending on what phase the counties are in), hearings will be by phone and trials will be done via Zoom or something similar. That means much the same decisions will be made; but there will be a lot more preparation beforehand. 

If you are in the middle of a divorce, you MUST keep checking the County website.  Both county courts are operating under emergency orders that greatly limit your ability to get a decision from the court.  See: 

King County COVID Emergency Order Updates

King County Family Law Description of Operations

Snohomish County COVID Emergency Orders

Existing parenting plan are enforceable. The courts have decided that transporting  children back and forth for visitation, is a “mission essential” task, and people can do that. There is not a basis for one parent to withhold the kids, claiming that the coronavirus poses a risk.

What does this mean for you?

If you have a specific problem you need to have addressed, you either need to call an attorney, or you need to read very closely the court’s emergency orders for that county. In my County post, I have links to the County’s websites. Those emergency orders change on almost a daily basis.

But there are some general effects on a divorce:

  • You can start a divorce. King County does electronic filing so it’s easier to start a divorce in King County. Snohomish County is a little more difficult, but it can still be done. It will be more difficult (though not impossible) to get a hearing for temporary orders done. 
  • Finalizing divorces is done without live testimony or going to court. Both counties allow an attorney to finalize a divorce (enter final orders) without physically going to court. 
  • Unless you have a genuine emergency, it will be difficult to get any immediate relief from the court on the Family Law calendars. Both counties are doing all motions (with limited exceptions) on a telephonic basis. King County in particular is hearing only “emergency”, or “mission essential” motions. Those are motions which deal with severe financial problems, or physical risk to the children or a spouse. But the commissioner defines what those are. If you simply file a motion, unless it is genuinely a real problem, the chances are good it will simply not be heard. And you will have to wait until after the end of April or even June to get it heard.
  • If you have children, and you need child support, and you are physically separated from your spouse, it is probably faster to go through the Division of Child Support, with the State, instead of filing a motion for child support. DCS is still functioning, fairly efficiently, and it is actually probably faster than trying to note a motion for child support, as long as your spouse is working, and gets a W-2 paycheck.
  • If there are children, both counties still require you to go to a Parenting Class, but you can either go electronically, or they will give you attendance certificate electronically. Neither County requires in person attendance at this point. This is a temporary fix. Both counties will probably go back to in-person attendance once the emergency is over.
  • In King County, if you have an agreed divorce, we can still file it, and finalize it 91 days later. That can still happen easily. In Snohomish County, we can file it, and finalize it 91 days later, but we do have to file a motion in Ex Parte to make it happen. It is still without live testimony, or anybody showing up in court. Again, this is a temporary fix, and may well change once the pandemic is under control and the courts go back to normal procedures.
  • You have to remember that if you and your spouse do not have an agreement to start with, a divorce in King County will still take about a year, and a divorce and Snohomish County will take six months to a year. So you can easily start the divorce now, as long as you don’t have any immediate problems that need to be addressed by a court, and the pandemic will probably be over by the time you get to the end.
  • If you have specific questions, as always, give me a call.