For a majority of the year people have been avoiding public gatherings and staying inside. Staying in and trying to lower the risk of spreading Covid-19. This includes courts and judges. Many courthouses closed during the pandemic and are now reopened on a limited schedule. This has caused some backlog in the court system despite a steady number of divorce and dissolution cases being submitted.
Those going to court over domestic relations often face long waiting periods during normal times. During this pandemic couples have faced longer wait times in domestic cases. Even when courts were opening back up, they were only taking cases in which there was an emergency. “The domestic violence cases did rise pretty significantly in the beginning. People who were in domestic violence situations their situations turned critical.” said Judge Paula Giulitto. Those trying to get a divorce or lower child support payments were put on the backburner.
Giulitto is from the Domestic Relations Court and handles cases involving divorce, dissolutions, child support, custody disputes and more. The biggest problem they have faced in terms of backlog is the tolling orders Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor put in place that basically stopped time from counting in courts from March 9th to July 30th. In Ohio, no divorce can come before the court for a final hearing until 42 days after service. So, for months this time has not counted unless both parties agree to waive the tolling time, to do this both parties must agree and participate in the procedures. If one party does not agree or does not attend the hearings, a person who was serviced on March 10th would not be eligible for the tolling time to be counted until July 31st. Despite these new problems the court has faced they are working on catching up on all cases. “We’re catching up pretty good.” said Giulitto. Her court has begun offering online video conferences in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the concern of public safety. “All the judges in Portage County wanted to try do what we could to reduce the foot traffic to keep everyone safe,” said Giulitto. “We have tried to balance the concerns of the public, the litigants who appear before us, and the attorneys trying to keep them safe because some people initially were concerned about coming to court.”
In Portage county is costs over $200 to even file for a divorce. This fee does not include the cost of getting a lawyer, only filing fees for the court. At Grisi & Budde clients dealing with domestic court cases are lucky enough not to get charged for cases that have been prolonged because of the pandemic. “The fees have to do with how many hours were working on it, so if we’re not going to the hearing either then they’re not paying us.” said attorney Guenna Bolinger. They have been adapting by doing consultations over the phone and online, as well as doing hearings online if possible. “Most of the hearing are held by Zoom now unless there is going to be a ton of evidence provided. If there is a ton of evidence, we are still doing an in-person hearing.” Bolinger said. One big change the attorneys have had to make is helping clients understand the technology and how to use it. “Some of our clients are not as great with Zoom, so we always allow them to come into the office if they want to do the Zoom hearing here.” Bolinger said.
This type of backlog can cause major issues for the people involved, adding mental and financial stress during an already stressful time. Many people going through a divorce suffer from anxiety and depression. While this depends on the case, Mitchell Harmon from Kent Psychological has seen patients deal with these issues and even deal with a small identity crisis. “Going through a divorce is a big transition in practically anybody’s life. Prior to that point identifying as ‘I am in a relationship’ and this is this big part of me that just isn’t anymore.” Harmon said. Getting a divorce during Covid-19 can also cause issues with moving out and separating from the other person. “Some couples might not be able to physically separate, so that could certainly cause more stress.” Harmon said.
Going through a divorce takes a toll on a person monetarily and mentally. Going through a divorce during Covid-19 can amplify these tolls and make things much more difficult for everyone involved in the process.