Divorce Homebound or Lockdown with my Ex
Divorce and a pandemic disease each count individually as a major stress factor severely affecting health and mental sanity; the two together can be catastrophic to one’s self and family without guidance, strategies & information.
This article will identify relevant family law, psychological issues and survival points for dealing with divorce and the corona virus during these challenging times. Particular topics will include domestic abuse, children and custody, financial support, and legal assistance.
Domestic violence vs. Covid-19. A serious quagmire. Which is more dangerous? Do you choose your poison? How can one avoid injuries or death from both. Self-quarantine and staying home are necessary and required to avoid the virus and flatten the curve of this pandemic. (Also, washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds; using hand sanitizer before and after touching outside doorknobs and elevator buttons, staying 4-6 feet away from others and shrinking your social circle, see Dr. David Price of Cornell video on Covid-19 & Protecting Your Family). This may mean being on lockdown or cooped up with an abusive spouse or partner. Even in the best of relationships, not being able to go out except for a walk or a jog and being required to spend most of the time homebound or in a small space can cause an increase in stress, spats and violence. This is especially true if sickness, unemployment and/or a history of abuse exists.
The problem is exacerbated by social distancing and isolation from supportive family members, friends, and professionals as well as a breakdown in the availability of social, administrative and legal systems for domestic abuse victims. Many professional offices, nonprofits and even courts are closed. Police officers and agencies are swamped with assisting the sick, the elderly, medical staff and hospitals. Only essential and emergency services and businesses are supposed to be operating.
However, you do not have to fall through the cracks or suffer in silence. In New York and other States, the family courts may be closed but there are limited virtual parts open to hear emergency domestic violence and child abuse cases by video or telephone. Each county or a consolidated region has a court telephone number to call to file for new emergency or essential matters including an order of protection. These temporary and final orders of protection may or may not include for your spouse or partner to be excluded from the home, depending on the severity of the problem. A court clerk on the telephone will determine if it is an emergency matter and will help draft the petition. For instance, the New York County Family Court number to call is 646-386-5299 Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For evening hours and weekends the criminal courts are available to hear domestic violence claims. Temporary orders of protection that were put in place before the shutdown of courts are extended until further notice. Safe Horizons has a 24 hour hotline for domestic abuse victims, 1-800-421-4673 and a website, safehorizon.org. You can research other domestic violence organizations and check my website, sherridonovan.com under the domestic violence section for further resources. Telehelp is available for medical and social services.
Children maybe more vulnerable and face greater inconsistent parenting by divorcing parents during this period of the coronavirus. With school and afterschool activities shutting down, children are home. Children need to be especially protected by internet predators and bullying with a possible and perhaps inevitable increase in computer and smartphone time.
Disputes between parents in conflict may increase regarding new issues concerning the virus, social distancing and how much outside home exposure, visits and activity the children should have. Questions of, should the children still transition between separated parents’ homes; should they be exposed to a parent’s new partner and that person’s children; should the caretaker, babysitter, nanny, family members or any third party be near the children; or how should the children be educated will arise. Also, the children are stuck more than usual listening to and absorbing the tension of their parents’ physical, verbal, or unspoken conflicts.
Special needs children who crave and behave best with structure and familiar routines may find it most difficult to adjust to this crisis of interrupted schedules, aides and programs. Of course, if a parent or a child is sick, from the virus, or was banned from returning home due to travel more stress, health issues and potential damage is at stake. Creativity, cooperation between parents, reasonable precautions and professional advice are critical to help the children.
I am available as a parent coordinator to remotely assist.
If a parent violates a court order concerning custody/ parenting time the courts are only available for emergencies. A writ of habeas corpus to produce the child can be requested using similar procedures as outlined in the domestic violence section above.
Economic issues due to the virus are also causing havoc on families. With layoffs, closed businesses, reduced income and lack of opportunities money is extremely tight. Unemployment takes time to apply for and obtain. Business loans and one-time direct funds are available pursuant to the stimulus federal legislation but take time to receive and may be insufficient to cover the shortfall. Increased medical expenses due to Covid-19 can be devastating. Many families also lost funds or benefits due to cancellations of trips, events & services. The trauma and danger will certainly affect at risk communities the most including but not limited to prisoners, detained immigrants especially unaccompanied minors, refugees and people in poverty. Child support and maintenance will be harder to obtain and enforce. Already existing agreements, court orders and divorce judgements may provide for the right to apply for a reduction in support payments due to a reduction in income. A reduction due to a significant change in circumstances can usually be made. However, a court clerk & judge will have to determine if an emergency exists or they may deny the motion at this time. It should be noted all statute of limitations for filing legal actions have been stayed in New York State.
Also New York State has stayed residential and commercial evictions for ninety days. Divorce actions cannot be commenced at this time in New York State. Court dates for legal cases that were initiated before the closing of the courts have been mostly postponed or may be heard remotely with a telephone or video appearance at a judge’s directive.
It is also difficult to sell real property at this time since real estate is not considered an essential business. People are not entering other people’s homes or meeting for business transactions. The market is sluggish. Preparations can be made now virtually or with social distancing for future sales. New York State has provided relief concerning mortgage payments.
It is difficult to negotiate support numbers and property division with stock market and financial uncertainties present. Yet many separating and divorcing couples need to disentangle property and set up payments of support. I am working remotely and available to consult, assist, negotiate, collaborate and mediate family temporary and more permanent agreements.
Sherri Donovan, Esq.
Matrimonial & Family attorney; mediator and parent coordinator