Meeting divorce agreement deadlines or the conditions of a judgment of absolute divorce may become challenging as a result of COVID-19.
Some common scenarios regarding an impossibility to meet deadlines include:
- An inability to sell the former marital home or other real property, as required by an agreement.
- An inability to get retirement assets transferred because everything is closed.
- An inability to have personal property such as jewelry or art appraised for sale.
A general legal concept exists known as “impossibility of performance.” While it tends to relate to permanent impossibility, the analogy is clear: you can’t do what you can’t do, especially when much of society has been closed or brought to a crawl by the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the other side files for contempt against you, you will need to document your efforts to comply with divorce agreement deadlines and why you couldn’t at this time. This documentation should all start with communication between the two of you, in writing – preferably email – setting forth clear positions and a plan of action. If the other party files for contempt anyway, you will be set to defend yourself. It will then be up to the Court whether you acted reasonably, because a finding of contempt requires willfulness – an intention to not timely follow through on your agreement.
What about alimony, child support, and other payments to another spouse required by an agreement or Court order that are not being made? Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the real concern is loss of employment and ability to pay. In those circumstances, ability to pay is not only from income. If there are assets or other sources of money available, then failing to pay could subject the person required to pay to contempt of Court.
Again, the courts will be looking to whether you did the most you could under the circumstances, or whether you could pay but simply chose not to.
The pandemic has changed society. Limited access to the courts is forcing people to communicate with each other when they would normally rather not talk to each other at all.
Keeping lines of communication open is very important, but what is even more important is using common sense when dealing with the other person. It would be the best way to get what you need during these trying times, since the answer a month or two ago would have been “see you in court.”
Do you have questions about meeting divorce agreement deadlines? SIEGELLAW is able to assist in these difficult times. Call us at 410-792-2300 or fill out the form on this page to request additional information.