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Attorneys navigating new territory as pandemic pushes some {couples} aside

PHOENIX – From financial stress to spending more time at home, the COVID-19 pandemic has put relationships to the test over the past year and, in some cases, pushed couples apart. While civil court cases were initially halted or delayed, Valley attorney Helen Davis of The Cavanagh Law Firm said divorce proceedings are now virtual and – in part due to arrears – even faster than before.

“I think one of the effects of this pandemic has been to force people to really think about their lives … where their life has been, where their life is going and what their life is supposed to be,” she told ABC15.

A recent study of leading indicators found that both divorce and marriage rates fell in many states, including Arizona, in 2020. The final numbers won’t be available for a few months, but they don’t tell the full story. Davis says navigating divorce proceedings in a virtual environment has created new challenges for clients and their lawyers.

“The court is not always very sensitive to some people’s need for a little time and consideration to accept how their lives will change,” said Davis, referring to the speed at which the proceedings are now advancing in 2021 “It is not easy to guide your client by testimony or to hear the other party’s testimony when they are not with you and you cannot put a note or a whisper in their ear.”

The pandemic has also created new problems with co-parenting plan creation and logistics, especially when it comes to travel, she said. One parent may be more resistant to travel or possible COVID-19 exposure, while the other may not be more resistant. Children who have faced canceled activities and engaged in distance learning can get caught in the middle.

“Well, here is another change in the stability of the child’s life, in which the parents divorce and the child is forced to go back and forth between parents.”

Davis said she was more aware of the need to sometimes refer clients to mental health professionals in the face of the pandemic, but said this could open up medical records review during a divorce proceeding. Her advice, aside from violence or threats of violence in a relationship, is that couples think twice and evaluate where the stress in their relationship may be coming from.

“Make sure this is a decision you think is right and you won’t regret it later,” she said. “Don’t say the ‘d word’ if you don’t really mean it because you can’t take it back.”

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