KEEPING YOUR DIVORCE ON TRACK WHILE STUCK AT HOME

By Frank Morano, Esq.

So you’ve hired a lawyer and filed a complaint for divorce but now you are quarantined and you hear the Courts are closed or only hearing emergent matters.  Does it feel like you are never getting divorced?  Not necessarily!  Many county courts will still go forward with uncontested divorces either on the papers (no appearances, just need to send the documents) or with a brief hearing telephonically or virtually.

You can be doing valuable work to keep your divorce process moving forward.

What can you be doing during this time? Well, there are many things you could be preparing for while you wait for the Courts to catch up.

  1. Complete your Case Information Statement: That multipage document which asks for all your financial information is one of the most important documents in your divorce.  This is the perfect time to hunker down and look up balances, pay stubs, and W2s and fill in as much as you can.  Review past credit card statements and bank statements to come up with what your monthly spending has been for the many different categories found in that form.
  • Gather important documents: We know, a home quarantine does not mean you have extra time on your hands.  Kids, homeschooling, work from home, exercising, cooking, and making sure you stay sane takes up 25 hours a day! But if you find yourself with some time, it’s the perfect opportunity to gather certain documents that you will most likely need, and, if you get to the discovery phase, will most likely be sought in a Notice to Produce.  The last few years of tax returns and W2s, your last several paychecks (which you need for your CIS anyway,) checking account statements, savings account statements, 401K statements, mutual funds, and other financial documents are important. 
  • Answer the discovery questions if they were sent to you: In addition to a Notice to Produce that requests specific records, you may have received sets of interrogatories, which are questions for you to answer.  They may come under separate topics (financial and lifestyle interrogatories, custody and parenting time interrogatories) or they may come as one long list of questions.  Take the time to read the questions fully, make notes about the questions, write down any questions you have for your attorney, and then answer the questions to the best of your ability.
  • Review documents sent by your attorney: Remember to be checking your email as attorneys are still working.  You may be needed to review documents before they are filed.  As with the interrogatories, read each document carefully and write down questions for your attorney.
  • If children are involved, develop your idea for parenting time, custody, and holiday/vacation schedules: Take some time to think about what you would like for parenting time and custody and what practically works for your family’s life (under normal circumstances!).  Write out all the major holidays, birthdays, and other special days, and list which of those days you would like to have the children.  Then think about how to equitably divide those times between you and your coparent.  Make note of any particular days or times that are extra special for you and the kids that are not necessarily major holidays like Thanksgiving. (Super Bowl? Valentines Day? St. Patrick’s Day?) Fourth of July is one that many people forget, even though it often involves travel opporunties. Also, think about the children’s birthdays and how time might be shared on those days.
  • Talk to your attorney: As you work on questions and come up with concerns, set up times to speak to your attorney.  Ask your questions and discuss concerns.  Your attorney is most likely working remotely and many firms are set up with all the same resources and capabilities they have in a formal office. 

As you can see, there are many steps that can be taken to continue to make progress in the process of your divorce.  Your attorney can work with you and opposing counsel to try and settle the matter without the Court’s intervention.  Even mediation can move forward using virtual mediation methods.   This time of quarantine may help speed the process giving parties the opportunity to focus on their cases and work out challenges to come to an amicable agreement.