The Effect of COVID-19 on Virginia Divorce Proceedings

A Virginia appellate court recently addressed a wife’s appeal from a final divorce decree. Amongst several issues, the wife argued that the circuit court erred by denying her continuance request. According to the record, the couple married in 2008 and began separation and divorce proceedings in 2018. Following several hearings, the parties entered into a separation agreement in 2020. The separation agreement was limited to equitable distribution matters, and the remaining issues were slated for a hearing in March 2020. However, because of the pandemic, the hearing was moved to August 2020.

On the day of the hearing, the wife contacted the clerk explaining that she had a fever and possible COVID-19 contact. The court failed to provide the woman guidance, and the woman did not appear at the hearing. As such, the court decided the case solely on the husband’s evidence. The wife objected to the final decree; however, the court denied the motion.

The wife argues that the lower court abused its discretion by failing to grant her a continuance or provide alternative arrangements to participate in the hearing. Virginia’s rule governing continuance provides that a court abuses its discretion “when a relevant factor that should have been given significant weight is not considered” and when the court considers an irrelevant factor, and when all proper factors are considered, but the court “commits a clear error of judgment.”

In reviewing the wife’s claims, the court reviewed the Governor’s judicial emergency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The order directed courts to continue various civil and criminal matters. Further, the directive provided that trial courts should consider and give “substantial weight” to COVID-19 as a determinative factor. Here, the record indicates the trial court did not consider the wife’s symptoms when denying her request and instead noted that the wife “chose not to appear.” Moreover, the wife was present in all of the other hearings related to the matter, and the only continuance was related to her potential coronavirus exposure. The court also found that the court injured the wife by refusing to grant the continuance. As such, the court found that the court erred in its failure to grant the continuance. However, the court denied the wife’s request for attorneys’ fees.

Are You Going Through a Separation or Divorce in Virginia?

If you are contemplating a divorce, or believe that your spouse is considering a divorce, contact the Fairfax, Virginia, family law attorneys at Robinson Law. The lawyers at our office handle matters between spouses, co-parents, and other domestic relationships. We understand the importance of these issues and the life-long impact that Virginia separation, divorce, and custody matters can have on you and your relationships. Because of this, we provide clients with compassion, respect, and realistic guidance on how to best protect themselves and their loved ones while pursuing thier interests. Our office also represents clients involving adoption, visitation, modifications, paternity, premarital agreements, property division, and spousal support. Contact our office at 888-259-9787 to schedule your free and confidential initial consultation with an attorney on our team.

 

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