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This article first appeared on Divorced Moms and has been republished with permission.
You may have started to file for divorce before the outbreak of the Covid-19 or you might be contemplating divorce now, but are not sure how the outbreak will affect a court case or even mediation.
Most states have stay-at-home orders, which means that you really can’t visit an attorney or go to court hearings.
In fact, some courts may be closed to the public. However, the legal needs of people often will not wait for COVID-19. Over the last decade or so, courts have been converting to digital technology. Attorneys have been using email with clients and uploading digital documents to the courts.
How To Get a Divorce During Covid-19
Whether you are looking for a divorce attorney to help you with the file or you have been served with a petition for dissolution of marriage, you should schedule consultations with up to three attorneys. Before you retain an attorney, you need to find an attorney that you get along with. Sometimes personalities clash.
Additionally, you need to learn more about the law firm to make sure the firm is able to provide you with the services you require. Often, it is recommended to schedule consultations with three attorneys, and then pick the one you like best.
However, since COVID-19 prevents face-to-face meetings, it could be difficult to do that.
Many attorneys will schedule a phone consultation for you. You can always ask if an attorney will agree to a video chat so that you are able to meet “face-to-face” and you both get a better ‘read’ on each other.
Set Up a Secure Email
The email does not need to be encrypted, but it is better to have an encrypted email. If you are still living with your spouse, then it definitely needs to be a separate email that your spouse does not have access to, especially if the divorce is not amicable.
You will be sending information back and forth, including personal information such as social security numbers, which are required for the court, and financial information. Additionally, you should have an email that your spouse is not privy to since you could discuss strategy with your attorney.
Under normal circumstances, you would complete an intake form that asks you several questions about your situation. You would also sign a retainer agreement. You can still do this. Once you decide which attorney you want to retain, call the office and request a retainer agreement and an intake form. If you discussed fees during your initial consultation, remind the person you speak to of the fees you discussed.
Once you receive the retainer agreement and intake form, review the documents carefully. Ask someone at the firm any questions you might have about the retainer — do not blindly sign it. Once you are satisfied, then sign the retainer form and complete the intake form, sign them, then scan the documents and email them back to the attorney.
Divorce proceedings are filled with documentation. The court requires that the petition has specific information in it, including information about your marriage and your children. The intake form you filled out gives the attorney that information.
Once the attorney files the petition, you have a several-day wait for the process server to serve the petition on your spouse, and then your spouse has several days to file a response to the petition. During that time, you should be getting documentation ready.
All those going through a divorce must file mandatory disclosure – documents proving your financial status, including but not limited to pay stubs, tax returns, retirement account information, bank account information, deeds, and titles.
Mandatory disclosure usually starts once your spouse files a response, but you can get a head start on it by getting it ready and forwarding it to your attorney while you are waiting for your spouse to file his or her response.
Always send copies to the attorney. You could also send two copies of each document if you have access to a copy machine. The attorney will need a copy for himself and one for your spouse’s attorney – or your spouse if he or she does not retain an attorney.
Always forward documents via FedEx or USPS and include a tracking number. If you have a scanner and a manageable number of documents to send, you can always scan the documents and forward them via email. Always check with the office before sending large files.
Normally, you have to show up at court hearings. However, the courts have always had the ability to do telephonic hearings under certain circumstances. Usually, telephonic hearings were reserved for administrative proceedings, rather than those that required the testimony of witnesses.
Depending on the court, hearings may be delayed, or you may have to be sworn in via video conferencing. Ask your attorney how the F is handling hearings that require testimony from you, your spouse and/or witnesses, and if the court is using video conferencing, if you do the video conference from your own home or from your attorney’s office.