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Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus

Are family courts an essential business in Nevada during the pandemic?

On March 12, 2020, Governor Steve Sisolak ordered all non-essential Nevada businesses to close in an attempt to slowing the spread of COVID-19. While family law courts have not technically been in lockdown, Matthew H. Friedman, a family attorney at Ford & Friedman in Henderson, Nevada, notes that they have not been keeping calendar hours—and have been using phone calls and videoconferencing to conduct matters.

We asked Friedman a number of questions, below, on the current state of family law in Nevada, including how an experienced attorney at a law firm can help sort through a divorce during COVID-19.

Has your caseload been affected by the orders?

We’re family law attorneys, so it’s peer-to-peer, as opposed to corporate defense work. We do a wide spectrum of cases, but a lot of our people are higher up on the socio-economic ladder. I think the suppression of economic means by telling everyone to not work—which is understandable from a health standpoint—has reduced everyone’s confidence in how long their available capitol is going to last. … As a result, our caseload, there’s been a pull back in the number of signups. It’s not dramatic, though.

What about your existing cases?

People haven’t stopped wanting us to move forward on their cases, it’s just [there’s] an inability to service the cost.

As the pandemic proceeds, do you see yourself getting more calls?

I love my wife. I love my kids. I’m fortunate in that regard. But we’ve been home for three weeks. If I was in a situation where I hated my wife, I don’t see many litigants saying, ‘This is the day I’m going to draw a line in the sand.’ Where are you going to go? Most people are going to just deal until this blows over. There are lots of divorce lawyers presuming that at the expiration of this, sadly, a lot of couples who had some cracks in their foundation are going to realize they need to do something.

I use this analogy all the time—I call it the head-on-the-pillow test. Ultimately, at the end of the day, you need to sleep at night. If whatever is going on in your relationship—the risk to your children, your finances, the pull of your emotional abuse—if these factors are such that you can’t lay your head down and sleep, it’s probably time to do something. We’re getting a lot of calls from people who are saying it’s hard to pull the trigger right now. And as much as I would love to do everyone’s case immediately, for my own economic reasons, the reality is that in some people’s lives, [a divorce] is going to add a tremendous amount of frustration and stress.

It’s a personal decision for the client, and it has to start with: I know for a fact I can’t live like this. If it’s physically—there’s no choice, we have to do something immediately. But if it’s more of a ‘not right,’ or ‘not fair,’ then it’s a parsing issue for the client.

What if someone is currently really in need of a family attorney?

A lot of our cases that come in, there’s some exigency. Sometimes it’s just, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ or there’s some type of affair going on, or substance or abuse issue. If you showed me an egregious domestic violence report, I can probably still get a client release, but it’s not going to be anywhere near as expedient as it was.

Have the courts been shut down?

The courts are technically not shut down. Each department has weighed their own risk factors and put guidelines in place guidelines. But each [family court] department is purposely not having regular calendar hours. They’re not doing in-person hearings; at best, we’re doing telephonic or video. I understand why they have to. If you were in the middle of a trial, they may be trying to conclude them. And if you needed an expedited trial now, they’re trying to do those by videoconferencing. If it was my case, as much as I’d want a resolution, I’d have a big problem with video conference cross examination of a witness. … You imagine the worst as a lawyer, and there’s a reason we don’t conduct proceedings like that.

For more information on arbitration, child custody, child support, divorce filings, divorce proceedings and the court system, see our family law overview. For information on more legal questions regarding COVID-19, visit FindLaw’s legal center, or find more articles on superlawyers.com/articles (search for COVID-19).

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