Some of you may have been considering filing for divorce prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Others may have been nudged in that direction after an extended stay-at-home order was issued. Regardless of how you got there, you all may be wondering whether or not you can still get divorced right now and what impact the pandemic has had on the judicial system. Here is the short answer to some of those questions.
First, you can still get divorced in Maine right now. The courts are still accepting divorce complaints and they are still scheduling divorce hearings and child custody actions. As you can read in my previous blog titled, “I’ve Been Served with Divorce Papers: Now What?” the standard procedure for a divorce or child custody action still holds true. One person will file the complaint, the other party will be served with the complaint, and after the appropriate documents have been filed with the court, the court will schedule either a case management conference or a status conference.
Although the civil division of the sheriff’s office (serves the complaints) was briefly closed, divorce cases are still moving forward during the pandemic. That said, as to be expected, there is a bit of a delay as the pandemic (and our response) continues to evolve.
The CDC regulations and the policies of the courthouses are changing regularly, but one thing that remains constant is the desire for the court to continue to move cases along and provide stability for families going through divorce and child custody matters. From March through June, the court was very limited in its ability to do anything with cases other than child protection and criminal matters. The good news for people going through this is that things have slowly started to resemble pre-COVID times. Well, except for the masks and all.
Courts have started scheduling matters for telephonic and videoconferences to help push things along. Socially distant hearings and trials with masks have become the new normal. Courts have also started to implement video mediations, which allow cases to move towards a resolution rather than being stagnant due to the pandemic.
Courts are even allowing people, in limited circumstances, to get divorced over the phone. For instance, if the parties reach an agreement at the video mediation, rather than waiting for an in-person court event to take place, the court is hearing uncontested divorce matters by phone.
If you have either been served with divorce or child custody paperwork or think that you need to start the process, the courts and mediators, along with the attorneys here at Rudman Winchell, are still available to assist.