Can I File for Divorce while “Sheltering-in-Place”?

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This may seem like a cruel question to some to address given that most of the world is abiding by shelter-in-place orders at the moment, but the truth is that many couples are struggling with one another, and they are looking for a peaceful way out. The short answer to the question is – yes, you can file for divorce. But the next question may be a more important one to ask – what happens after I file for divorce?

Different couples are in different stages of grief with regard to the death of their marriage. Some were separated before the pandemic shuttered us all into our homes; they just hadn’t yet taken the legal step of filing for divorce. Some were already in the middle of a legal process to divorce, but that process has stopped or delayed because of closed courts or reduced court operations. And some marriages were already in trouble; for those, the shelter-in-place orders have accelerated them down an unfortunate path they were already headed.

Texas courts have for years now accepted electronic filings of legal pleadings, including petitions for divorce. Texas attorneys can easily send filings to the court through this electronic system. Courts are also finalizing divorces, although the manner in which a case is finalized varies from court to court. Some judges are accepting final decrees by submission only, where lawyers and clients sign the decree; some require notarized affidavits (another issue altogether at the moment); and others are holding brief video hearings to finalize divorce decrees. The system is moving differently now, but it’s moving.

However, the real question is that middle period – what happens between filing and finalizing? With some courts closed and others only hearing emergency issues, getting to the point of finalization of a divorce can be difficult. And for those courts who are “fully operational” but with only video hearings and trials, that poses other difficult questions. It’s hard enough to have an in-person hearing or trial on any issue; imagine how much more difficult the task becomes when everything is remote. It’s not something I would want for me or my family. But there are other ways to work through the divorce issues.

If you have come to the conclusion that divorce is your only option, a Collaborative Divorce is a more peaceful way to do it. In a Collaborative Divorce, the clients, their attorneys, and jointly hired professionals help you work together to reach agreements about your divorce. You control the schedule, rather than the court system. You control the costs, by working together instead of against one another. You control the outcome, instead of leaving it in the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you or your children. Because this process is all done away from the courthouse, Collaborative Divorce professionals have easily and successfully transitioned working together with the clients from conference rooms to video meetings. So it solves the big question about what do between filing for divorce and finalizing it. Your divorce team can even help you if you and your spouse are still living under the same roof. Working together to have constructive conversations about how you are going to divorce instead of going to war with one another in the courtroom or with adversarial attorneys may just help you get through this pandemic, and help to usher you and your children into a better post-divorce life.

Rhonda Cleaves is a divorce attorney in Collin County, but with clients throughout the DFW metroplex, including Collin, Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant counties. She has been Credentialed by Collaborative Divorce Texas for her experience and work in the field of Collaborative Divorce. For more information, she can be reached at (972) 403-0333.

Rhonda Cleaves

Rhonda began practicing law in 1995. She left a successful civil trial practice in 2005 to concentrate on family law — specifically, helping families transition to postdivorce life. She now practices exclusively in this area.

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