We have been living with the chaos and uncertainty of COVID-19 for a number of weeks now. It is clear that people are receiving mixed messages about how they ought to be co-parenting during this time, how the economy will bounce back and whether our lives and work will be permanently affected by new rules about social distancing and remote education/work. It is a confusing time and a time marked by fear. A number of famous people over the centuries have spoken about the relationship between fear and knowledge, such as American writer Mary Roberts Rinehart who said “When knowledge comes in at the door, fear and superstition fly out of the window.”
This is true in the family law context as well. If you are facing the uncertainty of separation or divorce, seeking knowledge about the process and your legal rights and obligations is critical to quelling the fear that can paralyze or cause people to act out in unhealthy ways. While there is a lot of legal information available on the Internet and through social media, sometimes a barrage of information doesn’t lead to knowledge, but instead hides knowledge in a quandary of facts and opinions. As well, every family law situation is unique, and generalities found on the Internet may not apply to your situation. Family lawyers can help you see through the web of information and provide you with not just facts and legal principles, but help you reach a place where you can stamp out fear with knowledge.
Here are a few pieces of knowledge to start with, which will help guide you toward peace and understanding:
- The process can continue: Despite the closure of the courts, you can continue with the process during this time. On April 17, 2020 the BC Supreme Court announced it would remain closed until May 29th although it has opened its doors to hear short applications, even those not urgent, if they were already set and the application meets certain criteria. But professionals such as collaborative lawyers, mediators, divorce coaches, arbitrators and parenting coordinators are adjusting their work to meet the needs of families through video conferencing and other means and remain available to assist.
- Co-parenting needs to balance the parenting schedule in place with risk factors: The courts are saying that parenting agreements and court orders about parenting that are in place need to be honoured since they were determined to be in the child’s best interests. This is true unless there are risk factors to the child that outweigh the benefits of the previous arrangement. For example, if a parent tests positive or comes in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, then you may determine as parents that it is best for the child to remain in one household for two weeks, providing compensatory parenting time for the other parent when the risk dissipates. Some parents with a shared parenting arrangement are choosing this time to move from a shorter 2-2-5 schedule to a week on, week off to limit exchanges and to provide children with stability during their at-home schooling. Others are deciding that one parent is better able to provide oversight and care mid-week during this time and adapting for an interim period of time. What matters most is what works best for your child. And there are professionals, such as those mentioned above, who can help you reach a unique agreement that works for your family.
- Children and parents rely on receiving child and spousal support: Again, if there is a court order or agreement in place, it needs to be followed. However, if you find yourself in the position of not being able to meet your obligations, consider contacting your former spouse and negotiating a new temporary arrangement that will meet the financial needs of both families during this unprecedented time. While many of our costs, such as rent and utilities, are fixed, many people are realizing that they can spend less during this time on the extras and even some of the costs they once considered necessary (such as gas, eating out, entertainment, etc.). Parents need compassion and flexibility for one another during this time. On the other hand, if your economic situation is temporary and you know that your ex relies heavily on your financial support, do everything you can to meet your obligations. If you truly cannot, and your spouse will not agree to a temporary reduction, then you will need to apply to vary the order or agreement when the courts open for that type of application.
- Obtain professional advice before agreeing on a value for a property, business or other asset: One of the significant steps in the division of assets and debts during the separation process is the valuation of property. The default under the Family Law Act is to look at all of the assets you and your spouse had at the time of separation, and value them at the time of trial or agreement. Although there are many predictions and educated guesses, at this time it is unknown how deep of a recession we will encounter in the coming months, or how well certain markets will bounce back and on what timeline. Therefore, before you sign a separation agreement or consent order that includes compensation payments based on the valuation of any asset, obtain professional advice on whether the valuation still represents the fair market value of the asset.
- Work toward resolving your issues without the court’s involvement: Waiting for a stranger (i.e. a judge) to make a decision about your family, children or finances at some unknown time in the future may not make sense when there are resources available to assist you to help you and your ex come up with your own agreement. Even when the courts re-open, there will be thousands of matters backed up, with criminal matters taking precedence over family and civil claims, so it could be some time before a judge is available to hear your matter. There are many alternative options available to help you move your matter forward and obtain closure on all, or at least some, of the issues between you and your spouse. Even the litigation process enables a party to require the other party to attend a mediation, where a neutral third party helps you resolve your own issues and come up with your own agreement.
Knowledge is key to tempering the overwhelming emotions and thoughts that paralyze during the separation process. Even if you think you do not have the financial resources to retain a lawyer, even a one-hour consultation can provide you with the knowledge and resources to move forward. Or you may find that having an anchor in the storm – peace in the midst of chaos – is worth every penny.
How Connect Family Mediation can help make this happen during COVID-19
We at Connect Family Mediation are fully operational and can meet with you by video conference, email or phone, to discuss your family law issues and help move the process along, at all times respecting the need to social distance.
If you have questions, or would like more information, please contact us.
NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on the Connect Family Mediation website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action, based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. One of our lawyers would be pleased to discuss any specific legal concerns you may have.