Divorce is an already challenging process, but what sort of complications arise when you’re going through it during a global pandemic? Many people are left with questions and uncertainty. Can you still file for divorce right now? How are courts operating? We talked to Joshua Lindsey of Lindsey + Amonette + Nemer, PLLC, a divorce lawyer in Nashville, TN, to walk us through these unanswered questions. From how to start the process to how to go about living under the same roof and custody agreements, Joshua gives advice on how to navigate a divorce during the current pandemic.
How to Navigate a Divorce During the Pandemic
Can someone still file for divorce during this time? If so, how?
Absolutely. The courts are still open, of course, although “open” is a bit different today than pre-pandemic. As of now, we are e-filing complaints for divorce and other filings, which is an extremely simple and efficient process we had been doing for a while already. I have been conducting most of my consultations and intake meetings via Zoom or some other video platform, and I can draft all of the filings and share those with clients via email. It’s not quite the same as a true face-to-face meeting, but it’s certainly the next best thing and sufficient for now.
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How has COVID-19 changed the ways courts are proceeding with divorce? Is the pandemic affecting the timeline?
The family law courts in Davidson County and Williamson County have done an absolutely tremendous job adjusting to the pandemic. Yes, there could be a bit of a delay in hearing issues that are not emergent, but the wheels of justice are still turning efficiently. Courts are using videoconference and teleconference hearings where possible. There are still in-person hearings when that is deemed necessary with social distancing, hand washing and no touching strictly respected by everyone. The family law bar is a generally tight-knit and convivial one, and I’m proud of how the family law courts and attorneys have worked together in this otherwise confusing time to keep matters moving forward as efficiently and amicably as possible.
What types of divorce-related questions are you hearing from clients? What kinds of questions should people be asking?
I think the answer is the same as it was before the crisis — only more amplified now: “How can I get through this divorce process in a way that preserves my self-esteem, is financially efficient and gives me the very best chance at a positive co-parenting relationship at the end of the process?” While we’re all under the incredible stress of this time, those questions are more important than ever before. The stresses of living in each other’s space 24/7, financial uncertainty and health fears should make us all reflect on what really matters most. That can be a different answer for each of us, but letting go of the inconsequential, meaningless stuff is more important than ever right now. I hope that’s the silver lining of this pandemic — we all learn so many of the things that consumed us pre-pandemic really don’t matter much. In your divorce, focus on what matters and let go of the rest.
How are shared custody agreements operating during this time?
The family law courts in Davidson and Williamson counties have been fantastic about providing clear guidance on this issue. When news of the pandemic broke and schools first shut down, divorced parents were asking if parenting plans were to be followed as if the children were in school. Our courts provided swift and clear guidance on this topic, noting parenting plans are to be followed as if school were in session but with a few exceptions (a child, parent or in-home sibling/family member is diagnosed with COVID-19; a “lockdown” or strict “shelter in place” order is issued by a local, state or federal agency, etc.). As is typical, parents are allowed to agree on alternate parenting time arrangements, so long as such agreements are in writing and signed by both parties.
Proceeding with a divorce might be more difficult if both parties are living under the same roof. What challenges are you seeing related to this?
The most difficult consequence of the pandemic has been on highly contentious divorces wherein the parties must continue to reside under the same roof 24/7. That’s not really a change from pre-pandemic days. Still, the pressure the pandemic has placed on parties going through a difficult divorce has intensified, as the parties are in each other’s hair 24/7 instead of going to work or otherwise getting out of the house to find some space. As with non-divorcing families who are experiencing unparalleled amounts of togetherness, divorcing parties have to dig deep to find patience.
How are you currently helping clients? Are you offering virtual consultations?
I am 100% virtual at the moment, and I have been for about six weeks now. I strongly prefer to meet clients and opposing counsel face-to-face when possible, so this has been a major adaptation for me. This has been particularly difficult for mediations and collaborative divorce sessions where meeting together is part of the essential fabric of the process. But as with all things, so long as we are professional and patient with one another, we can find adaptive solutions to make those processes work successfully. I’ve been participating in collaborative divorce sessions via Zoom, for example. While it’s not quite the same, I have found it to be a fantastic “next best thing.” In fact, if anything, I’ve found most parties and divorce attorneys are trying to be more understanding and more amicable during this crisis.
What suggestions can you offer to make a divorce easier during this time?
I think my answer may sound a little bit out of left field, but it’s this: The single thing you cannot ever get back with all of the money in the world is time. In the end, time is the only asset that really matters. You can earn more money, buy another car or house, replenish your retirement account, but you cannot get back time. If you spend your days pre-divorce, during your divorce or post-divorce consumed with anger, you’re throwing away the only commodity that matters. Focus on achieving a fair and equitable result in your divorce, and then let go of the rest. I’m not sure living well is the best revenge, but I am confident living well is the only way to live. You cannot do that if you’re angry and bitter.
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