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Episode 12: How to Navigate Divorce & Co-Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In This Episode, CEO Erin Levine Discusses:

  • Court closures, emergency requests and what constitutes as an “emergency” in a co-parenting situation.
  • What statewide “stay at home” orders mean for custody exchanges.
  • How to update co-parenting agreements when the courts are closed.
  • Why moving forward with your divorce, even now, is still in your best interest.
  • How to find the right lawyer who can successfully use technology to help you with your case.

 

Actionable Steps You Can Take Right Now:

  • Get answers to your specific co-parenting or custody-related legal questions by booking time with a legal coach, in as little as 30-minute increments.
  • If you are concerned about updating your co-parenting agreement or having access to your child, schedule your free 15-minute strategy call with us, or book legal coaching with our dedicated team of lawyers.
  • Keep your divorce paperwork moving forward by moving it online to our Divorce Navigator.
  • Listen to this podcast or read this blog to understand the financial risks and consequences of not moving your divorce forward now.

 

Do you need help getting your ex to agree to changes to your co-parenting agreement? We can help.
Book a *free* 15-minute strategy call with a member of our legal team right now.

Read the Transcript: How to Navigate Divorce & Co-Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hi, everyone. Today’s topic is one that we’ve been getting so many requests for so I thought it was important to jump on with a bonus episode and talk about coronavirus and how it’s impacting divorce, co-parenting, and child custody issues. I’ve got a ton of great information for you today and answers. Well, I mean with things changing so much, maybe it’s not answers, but definitely some problem solving skills and some solutions that I hope will help you get through this time period.

It is March 18th at 1:00 PM Pacific time and I’m saying the date and time because things are changing so rapidly, I want you to be aware of it. I am recording from my bedroom because we are in Alameda, California and there is a shelter in place order. So I have told my kids that we are practicing “social distancing” which requires them to stay downstairs for the next 30 minutes so hopefully that will work. 😉

I also have an incredible guest today. The one person that I absolutely wanted to have on the show and fortunately she’s willing to record not just one podcast – but two. We actually recorded one a couple of days ago and unfortunately Zoom hasn’t processed that recording so we are trying again. Anyhow, her name is Billie Tarascio and she is not only an award winning lawyer and author and sought after speaker, but she is the owner of three successful businesses.

You guys, she brings the Arizona perspective. I’m in California. We hope that everything we have to say will be relevant nationally, maybe even internationally to some people, but if you’re looking for Arizona help or information, she is your go to person. Her firm is Modern Law. It’s a family law firm that’s servicing most, if not all of Arizona. She’ll let us know.

She’s also the cofounder of Modern Law Practice, which helps law firms scale, grow, reduce overhead, provide kick ass service to their clients and make more money. It’s just a win-win solution for law firms to help their clients and to grow their practices.

And then finally her third business is I Do Over, which is a company that’s very similar to Hello Divorce. They provide DIY services, courses, help from legal assistants, videos, access to amazing lawyers. It’s a great resource. So I am thrilled to have her with me here today.

Erin: Hi, Billie.

Billie Tarascio: Hi, Erin. Thank you so much for that introduction.

Erin: Absolutely. I’m speaking to you from my home in Alameda. You’re in Phoenix, right?

Billie: Yes, I am.

Erin: And the situation here is a shelter in place. How are you guys doing?

Billie: Well, we don’t have a shelter in place yet. We do have closed schools and closed restaurants. I think, I mean people are still out and about, places have not closed everywhere. So I think you guys are probably at least a couple of weeks ahead of us in terms of how this is playing out.

Erin: And are you working? Is your team working? Are you guys able to work remotely?

Billie: Yes, we are absolutely able to work remote, which is great. Everybody has always had the ability to work from home and we have the technology and the systems in place to work remote. I think what’s hard is we’re asking people to work remote while they have no childcare. And we’re asking people to work remote and stay home, which creates a lot of isolation and depression. And so I think the big problem doesn’t come from a lack of technology. It’s what happens when the whole world falls apart and you’re supposed to keep working.

Erin: Yes, I can certainly sympathize, empathize, all of it. I know that our team is absolutely set up to work remote. In fact, our Hello Divorce team always works remote, but we’re really struggling with how to stay connected, how not to let your mind turn to mush, how to work and set a schedule when you have kids and negotiate that time if you’re lucky enough to have a partner in your home to do all the regular stuff, but also have time to work. So I guess what we’re both saying is we understand that there’s a lot on people’s plates. And when you add in family law stuff, that’s really hard.

So I’m hoping that we can address some of the most important questions that have been coming in to both your firm and mine in this podcast. So let’s jump in.

One of the biggest things that’s happened in the last 48 hours for us, and I think for you too, is that our courts have now closed. So what does that mean? If the court is closed, what does that mean for your clients in Arizona?

Billie: That is such a challenging question. The last call that I had before I got before you was a new client who has an absolute urgency and he has found out that his three year old has been fed marijuana by the other parent. And so this is an emergency and he needs help and our family courts aren’t really accessible right now or it’s unclear how much they’re accessible because we’re in such a state of emergency –  they are not closed all the way, we’re getting reports about all of our court hearings being canceled.

So as a family law attorney, you’ve got to be creative during this because family court is not the only option if you have an emergency. And then, for all those people who don’t have emergencies, they just feel stuck and slowed down. And then we have to, I think,  get creative as well in how can we negotiate something at least on a temporary basis that will work for families in crisis.

Erin: Yeah, absolutely. I know here in California, the courts are closed. However, policies are differing from County to County. So as an example, as of yesterday, Alameda County courts were completely closed, not working, no virtual services, period. We later received a notice by email that they were accepting domestic violence restraining order applications, which I’m just going to pause right there and say that if you are experiencing domestic violence, call the police. That is still an option, and probably your best option.

And they were also going to be accepting emergency requests. So not an “emergency” like –  my ex is refusing to give me the child because he’s concerned I’m exposed to coronavirus. But actual real emergencies like the one that you just brought up. And then later that night they retracted that notice and said that it wasn’t actually finalized. Fortunately we got a notice today from Alameda, from Contra Costa and a couple other courts that they are in fact, processing emergency requests. But that’s it.

So it comes up for a lot of people in the child support and spousal support context. I know a lot of people whose income is severely impacted right now. And in California, you need to file a motion if your ex doesn’t agree to modify support. And it’s generally only retroactive to the date that you file. Meaning –  that you can only modify support back to the date that you file your motion, not the date that your income changes. Well, with the courts not accepting filings, that’s causing a lot of people concern.

And so I’d love to hear your perspective on the topic. I mean obviously we think that the number one most important thing is to try to negotiate with your ex or if they have a lawyer with that lawyer to see what you can work out for two big reasons. One is because it might actually result in an agreement and second because if it doesn’t, at least down the road when we are able to file, we can show the court that we did in fact try to resolve something and we’re hoping that that will have a positive effect on their case.

Any comments on this issue, Billie?

Billie: That is just crazy. I wasn’t aware that with the courts being closed that you couldn’t file things, because we can file things electronically [in Arizona]. Even with the courts closing for hearings,  we can still move on. Move people’s cases forward a bit. And I think that what important because they’re panic and there is very real impact to people financially who are going to need to be modify their spousal maintenance or their alimony and their child support. You have to reach out, you have to negotiate and then document, almost creating a petition and giving it to the other side to say, “Hey, will you accept this as of this date,” might be your best bet at documenting the date at which you really needed to modify.

Erin: Yes. I think that’s really important. I have all these notifications going off and I’m so sorry. And I hope it doesn’t impact the recording too much, but we’re not using our normal channels so I forget to turn off everything.

Anyhow, I do want to say that, again, every court is different. And you are welcome to contact either of our offices. At Hello Divorce, we have a chat bot that you can connect with. We also have blogs on coronavirus with forms where you can submit your questions. So if you have a particular question that you need help on or you want to know what your individual counties rules are in the moment, let us know. We don’t have e-filing in most counties. Counties that do are sometimes not accepting filing that method right now. They’re only allowing a drop box that you physically have to go to if you are in fact allowed.

So rules are changing rapidly. Counties have different rules. If you can’t find it online and you want to connect with one of us, definitely that’s what we’re here for.

Okay, so the biggest issue that is coming up for us is these custody exchanges. And whoever is currently the custodial parent really does not want to exchange. We are getting call after call of people trying to find a way to not have to do the exchanges. And in general, what we are telling people is that if the exchange is in close proximity – you should continue to do it unless you have a real justifiable reason, you should continue to do that exchange. That is what is expected. That is the court order.

We believe that the ‘shelter in place’ directive does have exceptions to either exchange because of a court order or to care for a family member. So we believe that it is in fact lawful and that you should do that.

However, the question becomes when we have these custody exchanges that are across state lines or more than a few hours away, what do you do in that case? What are you telling people, Billie?

Billie: Well, I think it’s crazy because 10 days ago, most people would’ve said, “Go ahead and wipe down your seats.” I was flying last week quite a bit, and everybody was wiping down seats and that was our reality at that moment. And now I have a friend who flew the other day and was in an airport and they’re empty. So-

Erin: Wow.

Billie Tarascio: – the state of information is changing quickly. That right now what we’re being told by our government officials everywhere is don’t do it if you can avoid it. And so that’s what well we have to go with right now.

Erin: Yeah, I think so too. I think that we need to do whatever it takes to keep our kids connected with both parents. If there are step-parents or bonus parents that have been actively involved in that child’s life, we need to facilitate FaceTime and other activities to keep kids connected to their parents. And so I’m just strongly encouraging people to try to work out agreements maybe that will be able to have makeup time or an extra week in summer or whatever it takes. And then to get those agreements down in writing.

Erin: Now we happen to know a lot of people who are agreeing on different custody terms or different child support and spousal support terms. And for them we are recommending that you not just get it down in writing, but that it’d be prepared in the form of a stipulation so that we can file it in court and it will actually be enforceable because just getting it down on paper doesn’t mean that it’s something that you can enforce, at least in California. Is it the same in Arizona?

Billie: Well, certainly with respect to any modification of a financial obligation. So if people want to change parenting plan on a temporary basis because of what’s going on, I wouldn’t necessarily say that we need to file a stipulated order for a longterm modification. However, with financial obligations like a modification of any type of support, then we would absolutely want that to be in the form of a stipulated order with a date.

Erin: And is there a special form that you can download? Is this something that your office creates? Like it’s a one off or like how do stipulations work in Arizona?

Billie: So there may be a form online. The Maricopa County self-help forms are pretty darn good and if not, that is something that our legal doc prep company, I Do Over, can help people with for a very nominal fee, especially when you compare it to something like a modification or attorney’s services.

Erin: Okay. Awesome.

Erin: And let’s see, one other issue is a lot of people want to continue moving forward with their divorce and we’re actually encouraging that, especially if things are amicable. We don’t want people who don’t want to reconcile to continue to be connected  financially or through their estate, all those kinds of things. So we’ve recorded a podcast, we’ve posted a blog on let’s continue moving the divorce forward. I think that you guys have that capability as well.

Erin: But what can we do as lawyers, as mediators to help continue to facilitate a dispute resolution?

Billie: Yeah, so much of what you said there is so important, and I don’t know if you’ve seen, you probably have the articles coming out of China that there are now record number of people filing for divorce after their corona crisis. And I think what’s happening is people are … you’re in a home together and life has to slow down and you really have to look at your life. And so for a whole lot of people who have been unhappy for a long time, it’s now becoming very clear that which they always knew that their marriage isn’t in a place that can be reconciled. And life is short and what are we going to do about it?

Billie: And yes, the answer is we can move that forward. Even though life has stopped, even though the courts have closed and there isn’t anything stopping us from beginning that process and negotiating the terms and using alternative methods like arbitration or mediation or simple negotiation to get people through this next phase of their life.

Erin: Absolutely. And is your office or do you know of other people that are equipped to do online mediation or dispute resolution?

Billie: We absolutely are.

Erin: Great.

Billie: Yeah. We have certified mediators. We don’t have any problem doing things online. What’s interesting is, at least in Arizona today, and I do believe this will change, but in Arizona today, people are still wanting to come in. And that’s legal here and there’s no shelter order. What we’re doing is we’re making sure that people are coming in only one person at a time, wiping everything down in between each person, not shaking hands, things like that.

So our level of precautions is a little bit different from yours right now, but there’s nothing stopping from mediating either online or in person.

Erin: All right. Is your team, aside from people that are meeting directly with clients, are they still coming into the office or are they working from home?

Billie: What I’ve done is I’ve said, is anyone who is sick or anyone who has a family who’s sick cannot come to office with any symptoms whatsoever. Anyone who is at risk should not come to the office. It’s not a blatant ban by me.  We have probably three to four people versus the 10 that we usually have. So it’s a smaller crew.

Erin: Yeah. It sounds like you guys are definitely about a week behind us. Because we were starting to dwindle down in the office about a week ago. We’re client centered, but we’re also family first and we’ve got staff that is caring not just for kids but sometimes their parents as well and so we want to be really careful with exposure and whatnot. And then it was almost like Monday, we were sitting there and we were watching all these orders come in and things change. The courts announced closure and the shelter in place order come down and it was so surreal. It was like part of us it was like business as usual and the other part of us was pure panic. And then we’re wavering back and forth.

But fortunately or unfortunately, however you look at it, I haven’t really had time to let that sink in because there’s been so many questions like the ones that we’ve talked about today. And another one that’s come up quite a bit is for the doctors and nurses who are amazing and are heroes and are still working. I have had a lot of co-parents who are not the doctor or nurse call in and say that they’re worried that these healthcare professionals might be exposed to coronavirus. And if that’s the case that it could impact their kids, their kids could get the virus. Have you had any of those questions come in?

Billie: I have. And to me those are … it’s just the most heartbreaking thing that dealing with this disaster where we’re afraid of one another and the threat is real and it’s not anybody’s fault, but we can kind of come together and support another. We usually do in times of crisis. And I think the only thing that parents can do at that point, is communicate with one another with respect and keep focus on what is best for my health, what is the real risk, what am I willing to expose? And how do we cope with this emergency that we have, because the emergency may pit us against one another.

Erin: Yeah. Yeah. How do we cope with this? I think that in my 15 years of practice, the best way I think co-parents can talk and navigate through this is like you said, with respect and avoiding two very important things, demands and criticisms. Because the moment people begin demanding something of the other, the moment people start criticizing the other person’s activities, they shut down. And we need to keep communication open. And so I’ve just am really encouraging people to use “I” statements and to even ask the other person, “Hey, it sounds like I just made you really upset. What did you hear me say? Let’s try to work this out.” Like this is your chance to … your opportunity to try to keep things as peaceful between the two of you as possible and maybe even do some problem solving together.

I don’t want to keep you much longer. I know you’re super busy, but I do have one more question for you. And then of course I want to open it up, Billie, in case there’s anything else you want to share.

Erin: And my question for you is, if somebody is looking for a lawyer right now in the moment, where should they be looking and what sort of qualities or technology should they be looking for in a lawyer?

Billie: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean the best place if you are starting from scratch and you’re looking for a lawyer and you can’t … you’ve asked your family and friends is you should read Google reviews. They’re the closest thing to getting your family and friends recommendations. And then you should look at websites and read what they say because lawyers and law firms all have a different personality and a different methodology in the way that they lawyer. And there’s nothing right or wrong about that. You’re just looking for fit. So the first thing you should do is look for fit by reviews and by the website.

Billie: And then you’re going to look to see, does this law firm have the technology and the infrastructure in place to represent me during this place, this time when paper and the old school ways of doing business have shut down? You are going to need to look for a law firm that can work remotely, that can do things digitally, that can accept your documents and e-signatures and online payments. If they don’t have those things …

In Arizona, if we’re one week behind California, then we’re eventually going to be sheltered, which means we will be ordered not to leave our house. And so you have to choose a law firm that can function under that environment.

Erin: And you’d think that most law firms can, but at least in my experience, I would say that the vast majority of law firms have just not caught on to the technology boom that the rest of the world has already embraced. And so I think that is a very, very important point, Billie.

I also recorded a podcast and for people who know me, this is probably the longest podcast I’ve done. Usually ours are quite short, but they’re packed with information and I did a podcast just a couple weeks ago about choosing the right attorney for you, the right legal help for your case. And so I highly encourage people to take a look at that as well.

And there is a website called Divorceify and it is kind of like an attorney referral service. However, it’s particularly for divorce, family law and child custody matters and it has people besides divorce lawyers that are really integral to helping families resolve family law issues. So like certified divorce financial analysts and divorce coaches and life coaches and that kind of thing. So it is a great resource and I recommend that people check it out.

Okay, Billie, is there anything else, my friend, that you would like to share? We probably will end up doing another one of these episodes soon, but in the moment, is there anything that you’d like to share?

Billie: No, I think we have covered it all. I think that the key has to be flexibility and compassion and patience.

Erin: And then how can people reach you?

Billie: Oh, my website is MyModernLaw.com.

Erin: And from MyModernLaw.com, they can get to your other company as well?

Billie: Yep. You can get to IDoOver.life, which is the DIY document prep company and we would love to get to know you and help you. The only other thing I want to say is if lawyers are out there listening to this and you need help getting online quickly, please contact me. I can help get your law firms set up to be online and functional quickly and I just think that the world needs more lawyers that are set up to help people than less.

Erin: I absolutely agree and I’m so glad you said something. I can say from personal experience that when I pivoted to primarily focus on Hello Divorce, we really needed some major help, a major overhaul when it came to making Levine family law group a lean mean machine. And we brought in Billie and Chad Burton from Modern Law Practice and have never looked back.

It has been absolutely incredible, including the intake team that they work with that we are now using. I mean, knowing that my phones are taken care of and my clients have an empathetic ear on the other side has taken a lot of stress off of our plates in this moment. So yes, definitely.

I want to remind everyone that we are on social at Hello Divorce, that you can find us online at HelloDivorce.com or LevineFamilyLawGroup.com. We are set up to help in any way we can and if it’s something that we can’t do or it’s not in our jurisdiction, we’re happy to find you someone who does.

Erin: So thanks, everyone. Until our next episode.

Billie: Thanks so much, Erin.

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