It’s News When NY Has Covid-19 Divorce Moratorium
Funny how when New York or California does something, it becomes national news. We previously wrote about how, thanks to Covid-19, New York was allowing applicants to obtain marriage licenses by video conference. It was touted as earthshaking by the media, despite the fact that El Paso County, Colorado had gone a step further and allowed marriage license applications by email to help protect against Coronavirus.
And while some countries had temporarily suspended divorces during Covid-19, I was unaware that any U.S. states had done the same, until I read Mary-Kate Olsen’s sad situation. More on that below.
Family Law in Colorado During Coronavirus
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the Colorado legal system has remained open for family law, albeit with modifications to keep everyone safe. Law firms, including Graham.Law, have ceased in-person consults. New divorce filings are being done electronically – but that’s how lawyers have long started cases now anyway. Most family law hearings have been done via telephone or video conference. And more recently, individual judges and magistrates have been given more discretion to allow in-person hearings.
In short, while Coronavirus has shifted the way we do business, Colorado’s wheels of justice have never stopped spinning for family law cases.
New York’s Covid Divorce Moratorium
The same cannot be said of New York, however. In a court press release on March 22 announcing NYC’s shift to “virtual court operations” due to Coronavirus, buried at the very end was this note about family law:
“effective immediately, all new Court filings, either e-filed or hard copy, that are not essential matters, will NOT be accepted.”
Essential matters are those involving protective orders or emergency custody issues, not run-of-the-mill divorces. So since March, New York has effectively banned new divorce cases from being filed statewide, even if the spouses have counsel who could otherwise efile new cases without exposing themselves or court staff. For anyone interested, the New York Law Journal and law.com have compiled a list of NY’s Covid court-related announcements.
Mary-Kate Olsen’s 3rd Divorce Attempt A Charm
The Covid-related suspension of new divorces applies to the rich & famous just as it does the rest of us.
Back in 2015, Mary-Kate Olsen married her long-time sweetheart, Pierre Olivier Sarkozy (who is also the half brother of the former French president). And since April, Olsen has been trying, without success, to start divorce proceedings in the face of the Covid-19 moratorium on new cases.
Her first divorce filing (on April 17) was denied, as a divorce was not an essential matter permitted under New York’s Coronavirus suspension of new filings. However, Sarkozy then apparently contacted her attorneys and gave Olsen until May 18 to move out of their rented Greenwich Village apartment as he was ending the lease.
That threat led to round two for Olsen – Olsen tried filing for divorce again on May 13 by re-characterizing her situation as an emergency. She alleged that she would have to move out during the Covid-19 pandemic in violation of the stay at home order. And per media reports, New York has a similar statute as Colorado, an injunction preventing disposing of assets upon filing a petition for dissolution. But this valiant effort was also unsuccessful, as two days later the court denied the petition as not being an emergency that fell under the exception to the Covid filing ban.
All’s well that ends well, however. On May 20, New York announced the end of the Covid-19 divorce moratorium and resumption of new case filings in non-essential matters, starting Memorial Day (Monday, May 25). And per Us Magazine, the very first person to file in NYC was the aforementioned Mary-Kate Olsen.
Prenuptial Agreement – The Best Revenge?
Mary-Kate Olsen, who together with her sister is worth a reported $500m, may well get the last laugh. She reportedly has an “iron-clad” prenuptial agreement protecting her fortune. Prenups typically address financial issues such as preservation of premarital assets and maintenance and they are hard to overturn. As the couple has no kids, unless they try to manufacture legal battles fighting over furniture, or to use the courts to to besmirch each other publicly, the issues at dissolution should be relatively straightforward.
Post-Coronavirus Family Court Deluge?
Unless Covid-19 has caused people to reassess their relationships and try to make them work, New York may now face a rash of new divorce filings – not only the couples that would be filing anyway, but the double-whammy of (1) close proximity during quarantine adding strain to relationships, and (2) pent-up demand as those people who were prevented from filing during the Coronavirus moratorium since March play “catch-up.”
Note – by definition, celebrities are newsworthy, and events in their lives capture worldwide headlines. This means the good, and the bad or painful, are bared for the public to see. Writing about Mary-Kate Olsen, and other similarly-situated celebrities, should not detract from the fact that they are people, and worthy of empathy as they struggle through difficult times. Using news headlines to illustrate a point (NY’s court closure) should not mask the fact that a divorce is one of the most difficult experiences most people will endure, draining them emotionally and financially. Having a professional represent you helps to lighten the load, but will not completely erase it.