The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted markets and industries across the globe, and family law is no exception. From sweeping changes to court infrastructure to how quarantines and case backlogs impact citizens, individuals involved in family law at every level are experiencing the effects of COVID-19.
Today, we're taking some time to explore how family law has changed in the wake of the coronavirus, and how those changes may impact family lawyers, courts, and citizens going forward.
COVID-19 Has Forced Courts to Digitize
The legal system has lagged behind other industries technologically for a long time, but COVID-19 forced states and courts across the US to digitize information packets and filing processes for civilians.
To combat lockdowns and case backlogs, most courts started offering virtual hearings. Additionally, many courts made efforts to digitize information packets, making it easier for civilians to navigate laws and file cases. Many attorneys also developed ways to hold virtual consultations with clients (we'll brag a little bit here and say we were ahead of the curve on this one).
Going forward, expect to see most courts continuing to find new ways to embrace videoconferencing tools like Microsoft Teams, making attending hearings easier for civilians.
A trend towards more cutting-edge technology in the legal system can also help cultivate equality within our legal system. The easier courts are to access, the less likely civilians are to miss hearings or court dates. For Americans who lack access to consistent transportation or need to attend a court hearing in a location they no longer have easy access to, developments like virtual hearings could be a lifesaver.
We're excited to continue offering cutting-edge assistance to our clients and look forward to seeing how the legal system continues to develop in this regard in the coming years.
Parents Across the US View Custody Arrangements in a New Light
Child custody emerged as an unexpected battleground for co-parents in COVID-19. Across the country, parents acting as essential workers were forced to try and balance co-parenting with minimizing the risk of contracting or transferring the virus to their child or co-parent.
But it wasn't just essential workers who were affected. Many parents lost their jobs (more than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment so far), and co-parenting while searching for a job is challenging. Even parents who retained employment were forced to work from home.
Compounding on all of the above, schools across the country shut down—meaning parents were unexpectedly forced to balance child care and education with their work (or trying to find new employment).
In other words, COVID-19 put just about every co-parent between a rock and a hard place.
In the future, expect to see more and more co-parents reevaluating their parenting plans. Clauses for what happens if one parent gets sick (or is at risk of transferring an illness to other members of the custody arrangement) will probably become more common. Additionally, expect to see alternative communication methods—like video conferencing apps—become mandatory in custody arrangements where a parent doesn't can't physically see their child, but still wants to play an active role in their life.
The upcoming 2020/2021 school year may also cause conflict between co-parents across the country. As we move closer to the 2020 fall semester, expect to see more disputes about whether or not children should attend school in-person to kick off.
Divorce Lawyers May Be in for a Busy 2021
In China, the divorce rate skyrocketed as soon as coronavirus quarantines lifted—and many divorce lawyers predict the same thing could happen in the US.
Many marriages rely on hobbies or work to give each spouse some alone time, so removing those outlets and forcing couples to stay cooped up for months on end is a recipe for relationship disasters.
The factors we mentioned in the above sections—increased financial instability perhaps chief among them—also act as instigators for marital instability.
But now might not be the best time for couples to divorce. With the economic outlook of the country uncertain, divorce-related processes like selling the marital home become less attractive. As a result, some couples may try and stick it out until early 2021. Since the divorce rate often booms right after the holidays anyways, divorce lawyers could be in for a veritable tsunami of divorces come January-March of next year.
Domestic Violence Cases May Increase
A study by the University of Texas at Dallas revealed that incidents of domestic violence rose by 12.5% while Dallas' stay-at-home order was active.
Unfortunately, since the number of coronavirus cases in the US continues to increase, many states are considering secondary quarantines. A second round of quarantine-related domestic violence could be disastrous, especially since intimate partner violence often escalates in severity with repeat offenses.
Family lawyers and law enforcement professionals should brace for an increase in domestic violence during the second half of 2020 and early 2021, especially if states do actually implement secondary quarantines.
Here at William Kirby, Family Law Attorney, our lawyer can help you navigate your family law case with confidence.
To schedule a consultation or learn more about our team and how we can help you, contact us online or via phone at (215) 515-9901.