Dr. Kristen Hick of Center for Shared Insight sat down (virtually) with Danaé Woody, Divorce and Family Attorney, founder of the Woody Law Firm, located in Denver, Colorado. They discussed the impact of COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic on divorces and custody issues during their 20-minute question and answer session.
Danaé has been practicing law for eight years, supporting individuals going through divorce, navigating modifications after divorce, helping with custody disputes for couples who were never married, as well as supporting clients with domestic violence issues that may result in a request for protection.
Their session included questions about the way divorce looks at this time, and what to consider as you move through changes to your marriage or custody situation in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Can people file for divorce right now?
Yes, and there are more practical considerations than legal ones. It’s best to think through the divorce process personally and identify the dynamics specific to your own family. These include determining the best time to tell your spouse and children, if there are children involved. Ask yourself whether you have a good therapist to coach you through this time.
While divorce is a highly personal decision right now, logistically much of it can be done electronically. For instance, status conferences can be done by telephone, mediations can be completed online via zoom, meetings with attorneys can happen by telephone or video, and virtually the whole process can be done remotely. If there is a dispute that attorneys can’t solve, hearings can even happen by telephone. Know that the process can be started at any point, but could take a little longer than the average divorce process, which is typically 92 days in Colorado.
It is possible to set up a new household right now, especially if there are domestic violence issues. If you are facing any type of abuse right now, know that you have options and should get help when you need it. If you don’t feel safe, there are more resources now than there have been in the past. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE to speak confidently to a trained advocate.
Is there anything that people cannot do during lockdown related to their case?
Some districts might not hear certain matters right now. Only essential ones are being prioritized, such as motions to restrict parenting time, that can be filed if it can be demonstrated that the child is in psychological or physical danger. The courts are open but they are even more backlogged than usual. Courts want to see only the really important cases right now. If matters can wait, they will have to wait, and therefore it’s important to try and work it out in any way possible without involving courts.
What are the pros and cons of filing now vs. after safer at home orders are lifted?
It’s a personal decision to file now or later, but there are some things to think about, so I recommend contacting an attorney for a free consultation. There could be consequences for waiting to file, including financial consequences, and it’s important to discuss the ages of children, and practical considerations such as everyone’s mental health during this time. There are a lot of considerations and people available to talk through your specific situation.
Are you seeing any issues coming up with co-parenting and social distancing?
Absolutely, there is a lot of fear and anxiety about what is going on in the world. Sometimes, parents' fear can manifest in the way they are interacting. We have seen an influx of calls to attorneys. Even simple co-parenting decisions are more difficult, such as determining a pickup location.
Some parents are on the front lines, and jobs are a part of the friction right now. If one parent works from home but the other one can’t strictly maintain the safety of the home, that can create conflict. Parents have different ideas of how this should look, fundamentally. Parents are asking themselves, “Is everyone doing their best to keep children safe?”. If a parent is working in a hospital every day, and that is making the other parent uncomfortable, could the parties agree that there will be makeup parenting time after this is over? Parents can work together in these ways to come to a resolution.
It’s an unknown world, and a scary time for many, but the law presumes that the parents are fit parents and they will keep their children safe. Attorneys, mediators, or even court settlement teams might get involved if parents can't work it out. Governor Polis has made it clear that parenting plans, orders, and even verbal agreements are supposed to continue unless there is enough evidence to overturn them. Courts can’t weigh in on these modifications quickly, so it’s best for parents to settle collaboratively.
What if one parent isn’t following social distancing guidelines?
The public health orders are changing rapidly and the ones that are in place currently are what parents need to follow. One parent cannot unilaterally withhold a child unless that parent can prove that they are knowingly exposing the child to the virus, and files an order to restrict parenting time due to that. If your co-parent has a backyard barbecue with 12 people, it’s not time to file a motion. Instead, call the parent and try to work it out. Discuss social distancing boundaries and limitations that you can both agree to and honor during this time.
If your spouse loses their job during COVID, what income will they use for child support or maintenance?
The law says that those determinations are to be made on the date of the divorce. The court can set a maintenance obligation but set a date to revisit it without a lot of red tape, which puts less of a burden on everyone since this time is not representative of what is “normal”. If a parent has been economically impacted, they can request to set the maintenance agreement accordingly and the courts might rule to review the order at a certain time in the future.
Is your firm accepting new clients?
Yes, and we are providing free consultations by phone or video. Reach us by calling 303-968-1711. Or, you are welcome to send us an email. We can typically turn around free consultations in 24 hours. We strongly encourage scheduling that free consultation to talk with an attorney about options and learn more about the process. Divorce is rough and intense, even in the most amicable of situations. Make it a priority to talk with professionals who can help.
Clients of Woody Law have greatly benefited from working with Danaé and her team. They have been educated on all the aspects of divorce and fair much better than those who just get input from friends. If you need legal support during this time, don’t hesitate to contact Woody Law Firm.