Over the past few days, the number one ever-growing concern of most of the world’s population is the Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19. Below are some of the consequences the virus can have on the realm of family law:
In China, where COVID-19 first emerged and peaked, the city of Xi’an, which is the capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, is facing a major and unexpected repercussion of COVID-19: Divorce.
Recently in China, the country has reacted to stop the spread of the virus and in doing so, the marriage registration offices have started to operate on an appointment system. Appointments for divorce, started to pick up in the beginning of March, approximately three months after the virus first emerged in Wuhan, China.
An official, surnamed Wang, of the registration office in the Beilin district of Xi’an has shared the following: “As a result of the epidemic, many couples have been bound with each other at home for over a month, which evoked the underlying conflicts, adding that the office had been closed for a month, therefore the office has seen an acutely increasing divorce appointment”.
It is not uncommon to see divorce rates spike after long periods of couples being home together, for example, after the winter and summer holidays. At our firm, we experience these regular seasonal spikes and can easily attribute them to the prolonged period of time a couple has spent together, which can exacerbate or can bring to the surface existing issues in a marriage. Sometimes, it takes spending a week or two confined with your partner to make you realize you really cannot endure the relationship any longer or that you want to work on your relationship.
We therefore wouldn’t be surprised to see divorce rates in Europe and North America start to climb as well over the summer, once the virus has come and gone.
If you are wondering how coronavirus self-isolations, quarantines and social distancing will affect your divorce process, you are not alone.
At Spunt & Carin, we have begun to offer phone and video-conference consultations in order to reduce the spread of the virus and are able to communicate with our clients by email, telephone and video calls. As of today, jury trials have been cancelled, as well as in court settlement conferences. However, it was confirmed this afternoon that family court remains open for emergencies, and by that we mean absolute emergencies. We trust that the courts will be very strict on that. Things may change at any point, and it is obviously not recommended to appear in court if you are exhibiting any symptoms at all.
The good news is that our main goal is to keep our clients away from court as much as possible. We have always done everything in our control to work with you and your ex-partner in order to keep your file out of the court system. Therefore, in many cases, even if the courthouses do close, there will hopefully not be significant delay in at least starting the divorce process and more motivation to find an out of court solution.
School closures and custody arrangements
With school closures all over the province for the next two weeks, parents will be wondering how this might fit into their custody agreements and co-parenting schedule.
Technically, a school closure would typically be viewed similar to a statutory holiday. It is important to look into your custody agreement to see what it says about how to adjust when the children are sick or when there’s no school. If there isn’t anything, then you default to the schedule.
Read More: COVID-19: impact on shared custody
The most important thing you should do however, is to communicate with your ex-spouse and determine what is in your children’s best interest. Your communal priority should be to provide certainty, structure and comfort to your children in a time where not much else is certain. Your children need to know that no matter what, they will be taken care of by both of you and that this difficult time will pass.
Coronavirus safety and co-parenting
In general, pandemics are not something lawyers or clients think of when addressing divorce and custody agreements. However, now might be the time to start. For example, if one parent intends to travel to a destination where coronavirus is prevalent, the other parent would likely want to prevent this travel with their child, and it could be in their rights to do so.
As of today, the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has recommended for all Canadians to avoid any non-essential international travel. In addition to the challenges of travel authorizations, this will make cross-country shared custody agreements and international agreements extremely difficult to navigate and/or enforce. Parents will need to be patient with each other, understanding of the restrictions put in place by our governments and work together to ensure the least disturbance to their children.
All we can do is take things day by day with this global pandemic, knowing that we are here and available to address any of your family law concerns and/or questions (over the phone of course ;)).