The Impact of COVID-19 on Divorce in 2020 and Beyond


As we head into the second half of the 2020-year, people have undoubtedly been suffocated by the constant influx of information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as continue to deal with the heavy restrictions on everyday life which are in place as a result of the virus. Families have ultimately been restricted from traveling, social interaction, educating children, and most other aspects of life which people probably did not think twice over.

With that, the question remains as how the restrictions resulting from the presence of COVID-19 will impact not only the divorce rate, but also the process of divorce.

There is certainly the generic speculation that families being trapped in their homes for months, with severely limited travel options, and children being unable to attend school, except from home, will ultimately lead to a spike in the number of families which go through divorce.

More importantly, a potentially more impactful issue is how will the process of divorce be impacted, either on a temporary or permanent basis, in 2020 and beyond. Most people are aware that the court system has reopened, but continues to operate on a limited basis, which varies from county to county. For example, in the context of divorce-related issues, Mecklenburg County is holding live hearings in the morning sessions, and virtual hearings in the afternoon session, while some of the surrounding counties are holding live hearings for both sessions. In addition, due to the court system being closed from March 16, 2020 until June 1, 2020, there will certainly be a backlog of rescheduling the cases which were originally scheduled for trials and hearings during that time.

It seems that virtual hearings and calendar calls, as well as an electronic filing and file storage system is the direction that the court is heading in. In addition, attorneys and litigants will have to continue to adapt to attending mediations, and taking depositions, virtually, on one of the various platforms, such as Zoom or Webex, which is currently the platform used by the court system.

Further, there is also continued speculation as to how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the specific issues which are incident to divorce. The presence of the coronavirus has proven to be not only a health crisis, but also an economic crisis as well as a social crisis.

With regard to the issue of child custody, the most common dispute appears to be whether parents continue to follow custody arrangements which were in place prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The directive regarding this issue is that parents should continue to follow the custody arrangements which have been in place, yet should continue to use their best judgment with regard to their exposure, and the exposure of the children, to the coronavirus.

With regard to the issues of child support, alimony and equitable distribution, the economic aspect of COVID-19 will continue to linger. As parties have been furloughed, or otherwise lost their employment, or they have seen their salaries and earnings reduced, this will certainly impact the calculation of the parties’ child support obligations, as well as a supporting spouse’s ability to pay alimony, or the dependent spouse’s need for alimony. In addition, the impact COVID-19 has had on the market value of investment and retirement accounts significantly changed the value of spouse’s marital estates, potentially resulting a spouse to change his or her perspective on initiating the divorce process.

As we continue to move forward with the ever-evolving presence of COVID-19, time will only tell how it will actually impact divorce, and the process of divorce.

If you are in need of assistance with a divorce case or have questions regarding the divorce process, please contact our Family Law partner Eric S. Meredith to assist you.

Can I get a DWI when I am justing sitting in my car?

SUPRISINGLY the answer is YES!

North Carolina law does NOT require a car to be in motion in order to be charged with a DWI. Instead, the statute says one can be charged with a DWI if they are in operation of the motor vehicle.

Operation is simply defined as being in a position to control the vehicle while the ignition is running or on. This means that if you are in the driver’s seat and the vehicle is running, then you can be found to be operating the vehicle and be charged with a DWI.

Below are some of the most common situations we see where operation becomes an issue:

  1. I pulled over because I knew I shouldn’t be driving.

Oftentimes, people begin the process of trying to drive home and realize that they shouldn’t be driving. They pull off the road or into a parking lot, and wait for a friend to come get them. If a police officer pulls up and makes contact with them, could they be charged with a DWI?

Yes. First, the officer will have to determine if they are operating the vehicle. If they are in the driver seat and the engine is running, even if they don’t intend to keep driving anywhere, they can be charged with a DWI. The officer will not have to prove that they intended to move the vehicle anymore in order to prove operation.

  1. I pulled over my vehicle to sleep to off.

Another common occurrence that gives rise to the charge of DWI is when someone is driving a long distance or is driving very late at night and they decide to pull off the road and take a nap. Often this person will pull into a parking lot or other safe location in order to grab some sleep before continuing on, while leaving the car running to use the air conditioning or heat. Could they be charged with a DWI?

Yes. Again, if the engine is running and the person is in the driver’s seat, they can be charged with a DWI. You do not have to be awake or actively controlling the vehicle to be operating the vehicle. The police only need to prove that you were in the driver’s seat and the engine was running in order to prove operation.

  1. I got in my car to sober up before driving.

What if you never drove the vehicle anywhere. Instead you left the bar, knew you shouldn’t be driving and just hopped in to sober up before driving off. You can still be charged with a DWI.

Similar to the situation above, the police don’t have to actually prove that you were actively driving the vehicle in motion anywhere. Instead they only have to prove that you were operating the vehicle.

In order to prove operation, the police would have to prove that you were in a position to control the vehicle, i.e. the driver’s seat, and that the vehicle was running. They do not need to prove that you intended to actively drive the vehicle.

  1. I walked outside to talk on the phone and got in my car.

Finally, a bar or restaurant can be a noisy place. If you step outside to make a call and hop in your car and turn the engine on because its hot outside or you wanted to use your vehicle phone charger, you could be charged with a DWI.

Again, in situations such as this the police will look to prove operation instead of the active driving of the vehicle. The police will only have to prove that you were operating the vehicle, they do not have to prove that you intended to actively drive the vehicle or how long you were in the vehicle. Even a brief moment to make a phone call could be enough to prove that you were in operation of the vehicle.

What does this mean for me?

First, it is important to know that oftentimes in DWI cases, the police rely on your admissions to make their case. They will ask you questions designed to get the answers they need, not making any admissions is always the safest practice.

Second, it means you should be extra careful when you are using your vehicle after you have been drinking. Being aware of where you sit and what you do can be the difference between a conversation with a police officer and being charged with a DWI.

I was in the driver’s seat of my vehicle and it was running, am I automatically guilty?

NO. There are several other key factors that could play a role in whether or not you are found guilty in court. It is vitally important to speak to a skilled and experienced attorney as soon as possible.

If you have questions about operation of a motor vehicle, or have been charged with a DWI contact our Criminal Law Partner Mark S. Jetton Jr. today.

Steps to Take When Involved in a Car Accident

Unfortunately, a motor vehicle accident can have a detrimental impact on a person and their family. The negligence of another driver can cause someone to incur financial burdens for medical bills, loss wages from work, and fixing/replacing one’s car.

Below are five important initial steps that one SHOULD take when involved in a motor vehicle accident:

  1. File a police report with all relevant information
  2. Take photographs of the accident scene and your injuries
  3. Seek medical treatment for your injuries
  4. Do NOT communicate with any insurance companies
  5. Consult with an experienced attorney

File a Police Report with All Relevant Information

In every situation, it is extremely valuable to report the incident to the authorities. The police report will help your attorney determine how the crash happened and will provide an unbiased third-party representative to the accident. This also will help prevent a question arising regarding liability or fault.

Take Photographs of the Accident Scene and Your Injuries

In addition to a police report, photos help provide a visual image of the accident scene and damages to your vehicle to assess the cause of your injuries. Furthermore, pictures of your injuries immediately following the accident will hold weight in your case when arguing the impact that the accident had and the injuries that resulted from it.

Seek Medical Treatment for Your Injuries

Following a motor vehicle accident, many injured individuals experience an adrenaline rush, which causes their body to initiate a defense mechanism after enduring a traumatic event. It is extremely important that you seek medical treatment and follow a doctor’s recommendation. If you are still experiencing worsening symptoms after an initial visit, it may be necessary to follow-up with the emergency department, urgent care, or your primary care physician. It is also important that you try to keep record of doctor’s visits and hospitalizations so that you can be compensated and reimbursed for those visits relating to your injuries.

Do NOT Communicate with Any Insurance Companies

Most of the time, insurance companies do not have your best interest in mind, and although they may seem sympathetic to your case, it is likely that they are protecting their own interests. Conversely, our personal injury attorneys are here to advocate for you and protect your rights so that you can be justly compensated.

Consult with an Experienced Attorney

Hiring an attorney will remove the stress from handling the case alone and will increase your chances of a better, more complete recovery. An attorney will help set up your claim, have all communication with insurance companies regarding your injuries, and demand compensation on your behalf. The personal injury attorneys at Jetton & Meredith strive to represent their clients in the highest regard. If you have been injured from a motor vehicle accident, call our office to schedule your free consultation. We know that the effects of a motor vehicle accident can be extremely draining, so let us protect your legal rights and help you through this difficult time.

If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident or if you have questions, please be sure to contact an attorney who understands the law and can provide you with excellent representation. Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to help you at Jetton & Meredith, PLLC.