How will the COVID-19 crisis affect my divorce? with partner Melinda Eitzen

To clarify, the shelter in place order in Dallas and surrounding counties does not mean you can’t move out- shelter in place extends to sheltering in a hotel, motel, shared facilities, Airbnb, an apartment. So, move out if it helps to lessen the conflict. The shelter in place order does NOT prohibit one from moving out.

For those who are in High Conflict or Abusive situations:

At this point (March 25, 2020), as the courts shift to remote operations, they are only hearing emergency matters- which is defined as endangerment to a child.
Most of the courts are using ZOOM to conduct hearings. This shift is not easy, which is why they are narrowing their focus.
Melinda predicts that eventually they will probably hear non-emergent matters and family law hearings can get back on track.

Visitation dynamics during the COVID-19 shelter in place- How does the shelter in place order impact custody?

The Dallas County family district courts have put out a joint order that says that you can still exchange the children- this is considered essential.
Whatever your prior possession schedule was, it STILL STANDS during this time. The original published school schedule controls in all instances.
However, if one parent or a child is diagnosed with the virus, the parent has an obligation to inform the other parent.
It is not advisable to attempt to game the system during a crisis like this; any short term personal gain might have consequences once the trial takes place.

Tips on how to safely carry on legal matters during this time, alternatives to dealing with legal matters through the courts:

Prenups, postnups, modifications ARE still happening.
The collaborative process is still alive and well. Now that courts are not as available, quite a few divorcing couples are opting to transition into the collaborative process to wrap things up. This can be accomplished via video conference or by phone to stay in compliance with shelter in place.
Mediation is another alternative way to resolve disputes of divorce. Also handled electronically, with electronic video conference rooms. Signed, binding agreements are HAPPENING during this time. We have two mediators at Duffee + Eitzen who can assist with this.
Another way that divorces are happening during the shelter in place order is with the use of a Special Judge. Also known as a private judge, these (often retired) judges are retained and paid by the two parties rather than the county. Using this option, you don’t have all of the competing issues that the other cases might encounter at the courthouse. You can schedule the judge whenever it is convenient to both parties and wrap up your divorce privately.

Melinda Eitzen discusses violence and signs of violence and the tendency for violence to escalate during stressful times.

What resources are available to people who are living in dangerous or abusive situations and what can they do?

There is a definite risk of increased violence during this stressful time. People should be encouraged to not let things escalate to a point where they get harmed or the kids get harmed. There are still avenues to get out- domestic violence shelters are still open. Shelter in place does not mean that you must shelter in the place where you currently are. You don’t have to ask for a protective order to get out. You can just leave.
The shelter in place order does not prohibit you from staying in motels, hotels, apartments, airbnbs. You will never regret being more cautious and allowing people to have space and calm down. The DA’s offices in all counties are still open to handle protective orders. You don’t have to have a lawyer to get a protective order. You can contact the DA’s office directly at this time. The best thing to do is act quickly when violence or threat of violence occurs.
Ways that we can treat each other a bit better during this time:

This is a time to be kind to one another and understanding
Everybody is trying to survive this is many ways.
Self-care, exercise, spiritual study, yoga, meditation
For those who need them, there are electronically available resources such as AA meetings, narcotics anonymous, overeaters anonymous, and many other free resources, available online or via phone
Stay in social contact with friends and extended family electronically to keep from becoming isolated
Eat well, enjoy this time with family and pets. If you can find a way to help somebody else, it is more important than ever to help out friends, family, people in the community.
Prenups, postnups, modifications ARE still happening – and there are alternative ways to resolve disputes of divorce.
Signed, binding agreements are HAPPENING during this time.

Excerpt from Duffee + Eitzen podcast #1 featuring Melinda Eitzen, March 25,2020
Duffee + Eitzen Divorce Attorneys

*Ask your questions in the comments and we will answer them in future podcasts.