How COVID Has Affected the Divorce Process in California
In 2020, courthouses around the country changed their processes to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. LA County was no different. Remote hearings and e-filing became standard procedures in family law cases, including divorces, in LA County.
These procedures have affected how you obtain a divorce in California. But they did not affect the substantive law underlying divorces. A judge will apply the same laws to your divorce today as before the pandemic started.
COVID-19 has affected the divorce process in California in many ways, but some aspects have not changed. Read on for more information.
Changes by LA County Courts that Affect Divorces
During the pandemic, several procedures changed in LA County to minimize in-person contact, including:
Appointments with the County Clerk
If you need help filling out forms or filing documents in court, LA County encourages you to make an appointment rather than walking in. LA County also offers assistance via telephone.
The most common situation where you might need help from the clerk is a domestic violence restraining order. If you need to get a temporary restraining order before you start the divorce process, you can contact the clerk’s office for help.
During the pandemic, LA County courts developed a backlog of cases. But judges found that remote hearings facilitate cases rather than slowing them down.
As a result, you should expect judges to continue to use remote hearings, even though LA County has reopened courthouses to the public.
To encourage the use of remote hearings, LA County has waived fees for LACourtConnect. With the convenience and cost savings of remote hearings, you and your lawyer should consider using LACourtConnect for your divorce.
If you choose to appear in person, LA County requires face coverings in all courthouses. This rule applies regardless of vaccination status.
The only people who are exempted from the mask requirement are children under the age of two years old and people with mental or physical disabilities that prevent the use of a mask.
If you cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition, you must apply for an exemption from the ADA Liaison before entering the courthouse.
Filing Documents Electronically
LA County requires lawyers to file all documents electronically in family law cases. Non-lawyers representing themselves can file electronically or in person at the clerk’s office.
If you choose to file electronically, you can use the e-filing system available to lawyers or the File at Home system tailored to non-lawyers.
The e-filing system does not provide any assistance in preparing or filing documents. The File at Home system asks you a series of questions and prepares documents for you. This can help you prepare simple documents correctly.
If you have an unusual situation, you should consider speaking to a lawyer rather than representing yourself.
Divorce Procedures that Did Not Change Due to COVID
While courts changed some procedures to limit COVID-19 transmission, some procedures remained the same. Substantive law also remained constant. Here are some ways divorces did not change due to COVID:
If you get sick with COVID-19, you must work with your spouse’s lawyer to extend any deadlines in your case. If you cannot reach an agreement with opposing counsel, you must apply to the court to extend the deadlines.
If you missed a deadline due to illness with COVID-19, you may need to file a motion with the court to set aside any rulings against you.
If you lost your job during the pandemic, the court will not automatically increase the spousal support or child support you receive or pay. Instead, you must petition the court for a modification of your temporary orders or divorce decree to account for your changed circumstances.
Navigating Divorce During COVID-19
Many of the procedural changes for COVID-19 improved access to divorce compared to pre-pandemic procedures. If you have considered divorce for your broken marriage, it remains a solution despite the pandemic.