You were finally just about ready to make that appointment with a lawyer to discuss the possibility of a divorce from your spouse and then the world seemed to change overnight as COVID-19 (the coronavirus) took center stage on world news. Now what? With law offices working remotely, courts reducing schedules, custody evaluators conducting teleconferences rather than in-home visits, is it still possible to even file for divorce? The answer is yes, but there are some steps you may wish to consider first.
- Consider when you ideally would like your divorce finalized. Keep in mind that most states have a “cooling off” period between the time a petition for dissolution is filed and served on the other party, and before the parties may even file the final decree of dissolution. In Arizona, that time period is 60 days. Accordingly, if you were expecting to have a divorce finalized before the end of the summer (if uncontested) or the end of the year (if contested), you may wish to at least start the process. In fact, this may be the perfect time to begin since a final decree, in Arizona, cannot occur during the first 60 days.
- Use this time to mediate a resolution with your spouse. If you have been forced into self-quarantine with your spouse, or working remotely out of the same household, this may be an opportunity to try and sit down and talk about a settlement agreement. One of the difficult things in a divorce is often finding the time to sit down and attempt to amicably resolve issues with each other. Having the time now to talk about a potential resolution either between the two of you, or with the help of legal counsel and a mediator, may save time and money in finalizing a consent decree for dissolution of a marriage.
- Determine other alternatives. If you are not quite ready to file for a divorce, consider discussing the possibility of a post-nuptial agreement that allows you and your spouse to stay married but otherwise addresses financial issues, division of assets, and spousal support in the event of a divorce. A post-nuptial agreement is a contract entered into by the parties in consideration of staying married, but also includes terms for the financial arrangements in the event one party ultimately files for a divorce or legal separation.
- Talk with an experienced family law attorney. Do not let the fact that there is a pandemic stop you from obtaining competent legal advice about your situation. Most lawyers will still schedule consultations over the telephone to answer questions and give you recommendations for your particular situation.
Life may have changed overnight, but how you want to live the rest of your life is still something to consider.
About the Author:
Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office and co-chair of the firm’s Family Law Practice. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including as a co-author of the Divorce in Arizona book. She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country. Ms. Pontrelli is also an adjunct professor at The Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, where she teaches the family law class. Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081.