For many Texans facing the prospect of divorce, the new normal of sheltering in place has already become an intolerably stressful abnormal. Relationships previously burdened beyond the hope of repair are now being further damaged by the prolonged confinement. The lack of hope, useful information, and professional guidance compound those stresses. If you are among those individuals and want to know whether you could start the process if you wanted to, the answer is a qualified “yes, you can.” There is a path forward, although you will need to consider some new realities.
First, recognize that the new normal means you likely will handle most aspects of at least the early phases of the process while still cohabiting with your spouse, unless you are willing and able to move out yourself. For the reasons outlined below, you may not be able to compel your spouse to move out under present circumstances.
START THE DIVORCE PROCESS WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR HOME
If you have a computer or smartphone, and relatively high-speed internet connection, you can interview, hire, and work with your lawyer throughout the process without ever having to leave the house. Additionally, all 254 Texas counties are e-filing compliant. That means the paperwork to start the divorce can be filed electronically, regardless of where you live, unless county employees are unable to process the filing. Similarly, any agreements or orders negotiated can be filed with the court electronically. It is even possible in certain courts to finalize a divorce without having to personally appear in court.
LEARN ABOUT EFFICIENT AND CONSTRUCTIVE OUT-OF-COURT OPTIONS
Next, consider that it is generally to your advantage to “take the high road” in all of your dealings with your spouse. Here’s why: Due to the current virus outbreak, all Texas courts are expressly limiting the use of court time to “essential proceedings,” such as criminal matters, CPS removals, family violence protective orders, and juvenile detentions. If your legal matter falls into one of these categories, the courts are open to you, albeit on a limited basis.
As for the vast majority of divorce cases and other civil matters that want to have their day in court, however, they are simply having to wait – and they will continue to wait even after the courts re-open because of the growing backlog. But spouses who are able to take the high road, i.e. separate their hurts from the work needing to be done in parallel with their spouse, can move forward without those delays. Experienced family law attorneys who are specially trained in less adversarial dispute methods that avoid the courthouse, such as Collaborative Divorce, mediation, and other less formal settlement methods, can help such couples right now, in spite of the seeming paralysis that has gripped other areas of our lives.
FOCUS ON YOUR GOALS
Finally, remember that since divorce is a process, you likely will not be able to anticipate every question or scenario from the beginning. Don’t worry if you don’t know all of the questions to ask upfront. Instead, focus on your goals for your divorce. The goals that you set for yourself will help your attorney do a better job of anticipating the questions that will come up, as well as guiding you throughout the entire process.
Although the current national and state-wide response to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has temporarily changed the way that the judicial system addresses irreconcilable family conflict, it has also brought a heightened focus on the less-adversarial methods that actually enable and empower spouses to resolve their conflict without the involvement of the courts at all.
Please contact GoransonBain Ausley for more information on your options for divorce and separation during the coronavirus quarantine. Our team of family lawyers is available to answer your questions and provide practical and sound advice during these challenging times.
Curtis W. Harrison is a board-certified family law attorney and partner with GoransonBain Ausley, who practices in the North Texas communities of Collin County, Dallas County, Denton County, Grayson County, and surrounding cities.