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. There are limitations: motions for temporary orders are being heard in the afternoons in King County, and there are limits on the number of motions that can be noted each day. That lengthens the actual time to get a hearing in court (for non-emergency motions) from 14 days to six to eight weeks at this point. 

Trials are all being held on Zoom. That will be the case for the foreseeable future. At the last meeting, King County attorneys were told this might end up being permanent.  Preparation for trials is a lot more intensive that it used to be.

It used to be, when we had in person trials, that you could prepare exhibits at the last minute, and take them into court with you. While theoretically that is still possible, in practice it is tedious and time-consuming to do. And the court gets annoyed if an attorney has to do things at the last minute. So in practice, I find we need to start preparing intensively for trial perhaps a month before trial. That is because exhibits need to be uploaded to the course website 1 to 2 weeks before trial.

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 still gets 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. It is more work than it used to be; but it still happens. 
  • Unless you have a genuine emergency, it will take longer to get temporary orders done on the Family Law calendars. Both counties are doing all motions (with limited exceptions) on a telephonic basis. The process is more complicated than it used to be; and tends to change every few weeks.  The clerks are learning as they go as well; so you have to expect some confusion in the process. 
  • 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.
  • 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.