For couples that were facing separation and divorce before the stay-at-home order, Executive Order 55 added complication to the separation process. In order for couples to divorce based on separation in Virginia, they must have been living separate and apart for 6 months or 1 year before filing, depending if they have minor children or not.
In Virginia, separation requires physical separation and can include time spent under the same roof as long as the parties are truly living separate and apart. It can be difficult to demonstrate separation to the court when parties are still living in the same home and acting as a family unit. Some factors that may help to show separation include separating financially, purchasing separate groceries, and living in separate areas of the home. During the current stay-at-home order, it may be difficult for couples to set strong boundaries in place to initiate or continue separation.
Many divorce cases can still move forward so long as they are completely uncontested, meaning the parties have reached an agreement regarding custody, visitation, support, asset division, debt division, and any other necessary terms from the relationship. It can be difficult for couples to unwind their shared interests in an equitable way on their own when there is so much emotion involved.
For those that cannot reach an agreement, the next option is to file a divorce case and request the court make a temporary order while their case is awaiting trial. During the current court closure, these motions will not be heard unless there is an emergency involved. A party can still file their divorce and temporary motion, but they will not be able to get a ruling from the court for several weeks once they are able to set a hearing.
This slowdown in the process can create a financial or other hardship for couples facing divorce. Deciding who is responsible for payment of joint expenses, setting temporary child or spousal support, and a temporary custody schedule is already complicated enough without adding limited court availability.
For those that may be close to reaching an agreement, or that just need some guidance in the process, mediation may be an option to move their case forward. Mediation is the process of negotiating a case with the assistance of a neutral third party, called a mediator. Most mediators are retired judges or attorneys who have decades of experience. Each party usually has their own representation and their own attorney during the mediation process. Mediators all have their own process, but most frequently the parties all meet together before splitting into separate rooms with the mediator traveling back and forth making offers.
The mediator cannot offer either party legal advice, which is why bringing your own attorney can make all the difference in ensuring a fair outcome. The mediator’s job is to find a middle ground between each party’s position and facilitate the negotiations to a meeting point. Most mediators take one issue at a time and work to resolve each one, creating a full written agreement at the end of the session.
Mediation can have a number of benefits over litigation so long as both parties are willing to participate in the process. Some benefits of mediation include:
If you are facing separation and divorce during COVID-19, it may be best to seek legal counsel now to discuss your options in detail before taking any action. You want to ensure your rights are protected and your case will be successful once it can move forward.
Melone Hatley is a family and estate firm serving Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia. Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service. Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.
We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives. For more information about estate planning, contact our Reston office today at 703.995.9900 or Virginia Beach at 757.296.0580 or visit our website: www.MeloneLawPC.com.