Clients frequently ask me what will change now that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be nearing and how to know whether the pandemic has impacted all divorces in New York state or just theirs.
All good questions. Here are my responses:
Was my divorce really impacted by COVID-19?
The short answer is, probably. As we approach what we all hope will be the end of the pandemic, I can say that the most significant change we see in the family courts and divorce courts is the reopening of the judicial system.
Going forward, meetings before judges will increasingly be in person. Until very recently, COVID-19 shifted 99% of all court proceeds to a virtual format – if they were scheduled at all.
It may have taken more time to finalize your divorce
Particularly at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns and through a good bit of the pandemic, the entire court system responsible for adjudicating family and matrimonial law matters in New York and elsewhere came to a nearly complete standstill – except in special cases – like child support or child abuse.
This shift generated a massive backlog of individuals waiting for their day in court. This long queue and the fact that during COVID, most divorce cases were not litigated in person created another set of issues – many involving new-ish technologies. Judges, court staff, lawyers, and the divorcing parties suddenly found themselves forced to adjust to a new litigation format (virtual) and new communications forums (Zoom/Teams/Skype, etc.). This shift proved problematic for many, as not everyone (including the court systems themselves) was completely tech-savvy.
As the pandemic eases, what will change in regards to New York City Divorces?
Barring an unforeseen reoccurrence, expect the courts to resume hearing cases in person. Most participants in the process are happy to return to live, in-person meetings.
However, one interesting outcome of the pandemic is the possibility that some proceedings in court, other than actual trials, will continue to be heard virtually. And the consensus at this point is that that is particularly beneficial because it saves everyone time and travel expense.
How has Zoom (and other virtual meeting providers) influenced divorce outcomes? Have there been decisions made during virtual trials that generally wouldn't have happened that way?
Whether or not virtual court proceedings have resulted in decisions that would ordinarily not be forthcoming in a live format is a great question.
It's a little bit difficult to evaluate because even before COVID and Zoom, every judge handled his or her caseload differently. For those judges who already were computer-friendly and comfortable using the various technologies, there has been little if any disruption in how they decide their cases or their decisions.
Other judges and attorneys, who are not as comfortable with technology, have made technical errors which may have resulted in some cases taking longer to settle or resolve than they would otherwise.
I'd like to think the ultimate judgment on these cases would be the same whether they were virtual or not. However, there is no doubt that getting from A-Z has been a challenge for some courts and their staff.
Did COVID prompt changes with regard to spousal maintenance in New York?
Not really. So far as spousal maintenance goes, the law must be applied whether or not COVID or other natural disasters occur. As has been discussed in previous blogs, there is a formula that the courts apply when determining support. That formula remains consistent and evenly applied – regardless of whether or not there is a natural disaster like COVID. It may only be "flexed" for good cause shown.
The only real impact of COVID on spousal maintenance is the delay in decision-making. During COVID, certain spousal support awards were delayed because the courts could not clear sufficient calendar space to hear every case for spousal support requested.
Do you believe COVID impacted your divorce?
Not all delays are COVID-related. If you have questions about the progress of your divorce, let's talk. I'm Dan Stock, and you can call me at 475-232-4105 or email me at email@example.com to schedule a consultation.