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Tax Tuesday – MBAF

By: Tammy Clemenza

How COVID-19 Affects Couples in Divorce Cases
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the economy and created significant uncertainty. For couples involved in divorce proceedings, this presents unique challenges in reaching an equitable property division agreement.

Matter of fairness
In both equitable distribution and community property states, fairness is a primary concern. Rarely is ownership of a business, real estate, retirement accounts or another marital asset simply split 50-50 between the spouses. Rather, courts are more likely to award a business to the spouse who’s active in operating it, and a home to the spouse who continues to reside there. To achieve fairness, the parties will work out an agreement to compensate the other spouse by 1) paying him or her a percentage of the asset’s value, or 2) awarding him or her another marital asset of comparable value.

Known vs. Knowable
In the State of Florida, the Judge has discretion to pick a valuation date that is fair to both parties. Given the generality of the statute, courts choose from three dates: the date of separation, the date of filing, or the first date of trial. This is extremely tricky in a case where COVID-19 has impacted the operation, as some businesses have declined into uncertainty and some have grown.  Therefore, the valuation date is extremely important.

Current Court Situations
Due to the pandemic, family law judges are not hearing any motions, hearings or trials in person. This also includes mediation. Everything is being done by zoom. This has pros and cons for each situation.

PROS 

5-Minute Hearings and Mediation
For the short 5-minute hearings (aka “calendar calls”), Zoom seems to work well. Instead of hours of attorney time wasted traveling and waiting, now the “5-minute” hearing” is truer to its name, as both parties’ attorneys appear on Zoom.  

Meeting via Zoom also seems to be working well for mediation. Most mediators are using Zoom and can use breakout rooms, or create new rooms, to keep parties separated as necessary.  

CONS

Hearings and Trials
Holding hearings and trials remotely are a bit more challenging, causing some to be postponed for up to a year. Also, when at an evidentiary hearing, the normal exhibits which would be brought in person have to be sent in advance or done electronically.  In addition, if there is a problem with one parties’ connectivity, this could prolong the hearing as well.

Planning Opportunities and Challenges as the Pandemic Continues 
In addition to the impact on businesses mentioned above, as the pandemic hit, no one knew about how it would affect the housing market, stock market, and childcare issues, all of which factor into a divorce settlement. Now, we have a better understanding of these issues. 

Housing Market – It seems that some major areas in the US are seeing the sale of a marital home on an uptick.  This would be a good time to get the best value of your properties if planning to divorce.

Stock Market – Is on the rebound, however, the future is unknown. This should not be a determining issue if planning to divorce.Childcare Issues – With the pandemic, it is extremely difficult for parents to co-parent.  Between working from home, helping children with schoolwork and transportation between two households, this is definitely a challenge that must be factored into any divorce planning.