I want a divorce, but I’m locked down with my spouse, what can I do?!
These are strange times in March, 2020. Many people are being forced to stay home. If you have a healthy marriage, you can use this time to bond with your spouse. However, if your marriage has been on the rocks and there’s no chance of improving it, these times can be especially difficult as you’re forced to spend more time with your spouse, which generally leads to more strain and conflict. At the very least, it may be uncomfortable.
Fortunately, although the MA family courts are generally shut down to the public, relief is still available, and the court system is planning to move cases along.
If there’s a risk of danger, the police and courts ARE available to help you immediately. But even if there’s no risk of harm, you can still get the process started if you’ve decided that divorce is the best option.
Let’s start with emergencies.
First, if you’re in danger, you should call the police. Although police departments across the state are decreasing contact with the public and decreasing arrests, they are still intervening to address domestic violence. And in domestic violence cases in MA, police will usually make an arrest.
Also, even if what’s happening doesn’t rise to the level of an arrest, restraining orders are still being processed by the courts. Therefore, if you feel you’re at imminent risk of physical harm, you should immediately reach out to an attorney asap to determine whether you’re a candidate for a restraining order. You may want to discuss the facts with an attorney before acting because some conduct you may think justifies a restraining order may actually not rise to the necessary level.
But what about divorces that don’t involve risk of harm?
Although family law courts are temporarily slowed down as they’re in the process of working out the details of how they’ll manage divorce cases during this time, the early indication is that they will still be processing cases.
Therefore, at least for the time being, you can still do the following:
-File for divorce;
-schedule motion hearings to be heard by phone to address immediate issues;
-exchange necessary documents electronically;
-schedule and conduct virtual meetings between lawyers and parties to work on case issues;
-attorneys can still negotiate divorce terms;
-at least some courts are holding final divorce hearings telephonically, allowing people to finalize their divorces virtually.
One issue that our firm has run into is that our constable is currently not able to serve the other party in hand with divorce documents, which is required. We’re in the process of determining how to address that issue. But all other aspects of the divorce process seem to be moving forward.
What are the first steps you should take if you want to pursue divorce during this time?
If you feel like you’re headed for divorce, you may wan to invest in an assessment with a divorce attorney. This will allow you to dig into the issues in your case and develop a plan. Planning sooner rather than later may save you money and aggravation—especially if you have a significant amount on the line financially and/or you have children.
During this time, it’s important that the firm you choose is built to operate virtually. Firms that are set up this way are at a significant advantage now because it’s easier for them to provide quality service to clients without disruption: you should be able to meet with the attorney virtually on video, sign documents electronically, and have electronic access to all your case documents. And as a bonus, firms that can operate virtually tend to be able to price cases more reasonably than old-school firms.
Although there are law firms that are still holding in person meetings during this time, it’s clear at this point that social distancing is the only way to slow the spread of this virus—hence the lockdown here in MA ordering people to essentially stay home. Holding in-person meetings is an unnecessary risk.
If you’re actually living with your spouse, although connecting with an attorney can be a bit more challenging, it can still be done. For example, you can find a location away from your home to do the in person meeting—perhaps driving somewhere and doing it from your car.
Once you develop a plan, you can get the process started. The sooner your case is filed, the sooner you’ll be able to move on and start afresh.
This time of social isolation is challenging to most. But it’s especially challenging to those stuck in a bad relationship. The family law courts are up and running, so you don’t have to wait to move forward on your divorce.
If you have any questions about divorce or family law generally, feel free to contact us.
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