While COVID-19 has negatively affected several legal practice areas, all indications are that divorce and family lawyers will see more work in 4 key areas.
By Scott Classen, Marketing Director
COVID-19 has significantly impacted the legal industry – some practice areas more than others. While some attorneys have seen a decrease in the number of case inquiries and new matters, others are experiencing an uptick as the circumstances of the pandemic leave clients and prospective clients with increased questions and concerns.
Family law is one practice area significantly impacted by the effects of this pandemic. From stay-at-home orders to court closings, domestic relations clients increasingly seek legal guidance through these extremely challenging times.
All of this uncertainty means that divorce and family lawyers will likely see more work during COVID-19. A legal billing software designed for family lawyers offers the right tools to maintain time tracking and billing tasks during this pandemic. With time and billing issues handled, family law firms can concentrate on helping clients address their issues – which have likely been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Divorce and Family Lawyers Seeing More Work During COVID-19: 4 Key Areas
Here are the most common areas where people are seeking assistance from divorce and family lawyers – both during and after lockdown.
1. Separation and Divorce
Many divorce lawyers may experience a surge in separation and divorce cases during this time, and for a host of different reasons. For some couples, the financial stress of job loss may lead to divorce. For others, being quarantined in the house with their spouse may force them to deal with marital issues they had been trying to avoid.
Adultery may also become a major driver of divorces during the corona pandemic. Unfaithful spouses may have successfully hidden their extra-marital affairs from their spouse while they were out of the house at work most of the day – especially when they frequently traveled for work – but an affair is much harder to conceal during stay-home orders or quarantine.
Even the how-to of marriage dissolution can prove difficult during COVID-19. Most states require a specific period of separation before allowing married parties to proceed with a divorce. While stay-home orders are in place, many couples are finding it difficult to separate – whether due to financial limitations or the complicated logistics or outright impossibility of one spouse relocating during the pandemic.
Then there’s the question about documenting a separation – particularly if both spouses are still residing in the marital home. In many states, divorce courts require witness testimony regarding a couple’s separation. Obtaining that evidence – or proving that you are genuinely living “separate and apart” in the same residence – may prove difficult or even impossible at this time.
2. Child Custody and Visitation Arrangements
While many states have enacted stay-home orders that allow for custody exchanges and child visitation, making these arrangements work can be a challenge. For example, governments urge people to only travel when absolutely essential. One parent may argue that driving their child to the next state for a parent visit or custody exchange does not qualify as essential while the other argues it is absolutely essential for the child’s emotional welfare.
A parent may also have concerns about the other parent’s lack of commitment to physical distancing when the child is in their physical custody. The same logic applies when one parent is a front-line worker who is exposed to sick patients daily; even with the strictest of protocols – or lacking adequate PPE – exhausted health-care workers are falling ill. In either of these situations, the at-home parent who is rigidly enforcing physical distancing may feel that following the court-ordered visitation will put the child in physical danger of coronavirus infection.
All of these questions and concerns can result in greater inquiries for domestic relations and family law firms. Frightened or angry parents want answers right now, resulting in more calls and more cases for family law attorneys.
3. Modification of Child Support
With massive lob loss and confusion over government-issued stimulus payments, domestic law firms will likely receive a significant number of child support questions. Many of these inquiries involve child support modifications due to job loss; the noncustodial parent may have lost a job and is unable to pay support, or the custodial parent has lost a job and needs an increase in payments from the noncustodial parent.
These situations also bring up questions about responsibility for health insurance coverage or daycare payments when children are not attending daycare. Government stimulus payments may spark questions about which parent gets the money and how it will be delivered.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, child support does not stop and neither do the abundance of questions and concerns surrounding it. As a result, family lawyers have already seen an uptick in child support matters.
4. Domestic Violence
A sad, but very real concern during this time is an increase in domestic violence that many family lawyers are seeing during COVID-19. As domestic violence experts warn, the added tensions of stay-at-home orders and job loss can make an already tense relationship even worse.
Domestic abuse victims are finding themselves isolated with their abusers, with no work, family, or outside responsibilities to use as a buffer. They no longer have the ability to physically remove themselves from their home environment when tempers flare, which increases the risk of physical, mental, and emotional abuse.
For the family attorney, this may mean increased calls for protective orders or stay-away court proceedings. With so many courtroom closures, these lawyers will need a clear understanding of how to navigate the system under the current restrictions.
Some attorneys may find themselves in situations where they cannot offer domestic abuse clients the type of advice that they would give under normal circumstances. Staying with a friend or going to a shelter may not be a viable option with COVID-19.
National statistics demonstrate an increase in domestic violence, evidenced by more calls to emergency hotlines and more individuals seeking safety in domestic abuse shelters. Family and domestic relations attorneys will definitely feel the effects of these troubling numbers.
COVID-19 Will Have Lasting Effects on Family Law Practice Areas
COVID-19 has had an immediate effect on divorce and family law practice areas. From adultery and domestic violence to child visitation and child support disputes, many family lawyers are already seeing an increase in cases. But lawyers should not assume that these changes will be temporary. For example, attorneys will face a significant case backlog once the courthouses resume regular schedules and hearings.
While COVID-19 has negatively affected several legal practice areas, all indications are that divorce and family lawyers will see more work. Family law will experience the fallout of COVID-19 for months – and maybe even years – to come as stay-home orders take their toll on marriages that were already on thin ice at the start of the pandemic.
Some couples may try to take advantage of the enforced time together to work on their marriages, but this may be an uphill battle when you factor in economic insecurity, job loss, and fear that they or their loved ones will fall prey to this virus.
The most desperate will seek legal advice immediately, but others will wait until the pandemic passes before retaining a family law attorney. Some families may not feel the full impact of this pandemic for a few months down the line, which may lead to a greater number of future divorce and child custody cases.
Scott Clasen oversees all aspects of TimeSolv’s marketing efforts. With 20+ years of marketing experience, he has seen the full transition to the digital age. To learn more about automating your law firm tasks with TimeSolv, click here for a free trial: www.timesolv.com
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