How COVID Affected the Divorce Process in NJ
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic upended just about every aspect of our daily lives. Stores were closed, events were canceled, office work became remote, and many businesses closed. The court processes were changed as well, to reflect the risk of COVID exposure and the realities of the new world. Below, we discuss a few aspects of the divorce process that were especially affected, and how those effects continue as we adjust to the new normal. If you have any questions, or if you have a matter concerning New Jersey family law, call a dedicated New Jersey divorce lawyer.
Virtual Hearings and Remote Negotiations
There was a period during which New Jersey’s courts were nearly all closed for in-person business. At first, those closures caused significant delays, as the courts worked to find a solution to the risks of holding in-person hearings and other court appearances. Ultimately, courts began to hold virtual video hearings, where parties and court personnel could conference remotely from home offices or conference rooms.
Parties also took advantage of Zoom and other video conferencing technology to conduct settlement negotiations and other talks remotely. Parties are now able to meet with their attorneys remotely and join to meet with opposing counsel remotely as well.
Although the pandemic has waned, the convenience of virtual meetings has become a mainstay for many New Jersey divorces. When convenient, parties can still meet with their attorneys via Zoom or other video call applications, rather than travel across town or to different cities to discuss matters in person. Parties can likewise conduct negotiations over video chat.
Although New Jersey’s state courts are back open for in-person proceedings, some hearings are still held virtually, and much of the process can be conducted online. Your divorce attorney can walk you through when you’ll need to plan for any in-person court appearances as opposed to virtual appearances, and how to handle each approach.
Support Orders and Modifications
Spousal support (alimony) and child support are determined in large part based on the income of each parent as well as the totality of their financial circumstances. The coronavirus pandemic upended the economy, causing many businesses to close and others to furlough or terminate employees outright. Independent contractors and others who work on commission, tips, or other fluctuating circumstances likely saw their income decrease as well.
As a result, support orders may have been lower than they might have been in prior years. Parties who were already paying alimony or child support and who lost their job or otherwise saw a reduction in income during the pandemic can petition the New Jersey family court for a modification of their support obligations. Job loss, sudden medical expense, or significant reduction in income are all potential “changed circumstances” sufficient to justify a change in a party’s support obligation.
On the other hand, as the pandemic has waned, businesses are reopening, remote work is becoming more standard, and there’s much more potential for economic growth. If you are collecting child support or alimony from your former spouse and they’ve had a significant increase in income since 2020/2021, especially if they sought a reduction in their obligation during the lower-earning years, you might have grounds to seek an increase in your support award. Your support modification attorney can help you understand your obligations, your rights, and your options.
Asset Valuation and Division of Property
The pandemic also complicated the process of asset valuation and equitable distribution of property. Home values have fluctuated greatly over the last few years, as have business valuations. If you’ve been going through a divorce during the pandemic waxing and waning, you may need to conduct a re-valuation of various assets now that the national emergency is coming to a close. Valuations of complex assets like business ownership, investment accounts, and retirement accounts can have a significant effect on the distribution of property.
Call for Knowledgeable Legal Advice and Representation for Your New Jersey Family Law Dispute
If you have questions about divorce, a child support dispute, or other family law issues in New Jersey, contact a diligent family law attorney at the Law Office of John B. D’Alessandro in Union to discuss your concerns.