SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic–Jaclin Campos–Between January and August 2020, the Dominican Republic had a lower number of divorces than was recorded in the same period in the previous four years.
In the first eight months of this year, 10,487 divorces had been settled at the Civil State Officers, while by 2019 by that period the figure was already 16,964. In 2018 the total was 16,609; 2017, 15,879, and in 2016, 14,111.
Following the quarantine established in mid-March to curb the covid-19 pandemic, court proceedings began to experience delays. That, according to lawyers consulted by the newspaper Listín Diario, includes divorce proceedings.
“Many delays, long response time in applications, little speed of the courts on divorce rulings, among other complications” have been presented in these months, according to lawyer Leonela Jiménez, specialist in civil and family law at the law firm Morillo Suriel Abogados.
Her claim is corroborated by other legal professionals, including Katherine Matos and Lourdes Féliz.
Matos, family law expert at Matos Mateo & Asociados, notes that before the pandemic requests for date and hearings for divorces took up to two working days, but can now take up to 45 days.
All phases, from document depositions to hearings, are done virtually, a novelty that has forced those involved to make adjustments.
“It’s a new process for everyone, from the lawyer to the judges, but since it’s a health issue we have to cooperate and adapt,” says Féliz, a specialist in civil and commercial law.
Even with the drop in the number of legal separations settled in civil state officials, it is premature to establish the real impact that the pandemic would have.
Law offices do not handle a volume of clients that allow them to infer the overall situation of divorces during the pandemic, but the experts consulted have their say in their professional practices.
“Yes, it has influenced (the pandemic) from the point of view of our professional practice, and we have noticed that in the rise we have in consultations on divorce issues,” says Jiménez.
The same is the point of Matos and Féliz. However, professionals clarify that consultations and quotes do not always lead to a divorce lawsuit.
“Despite the increase in consultations and requests for contributions regarding divorce claims,” Matos explains, “we note that people after receiving the cost and time information of the process delay making the decision, which we understand is because of the lack of resources to be able to carry out the legal process of divorce.”
Factors such as economic pressure, prolonged lockdown, and the stress of caring for children create a breeding ground for conflict, especially in families who, for reasons of work or study, have never spent so much time together at home. Therefore, in quarantine the idea of ending the relationship may arise.
Lawyer Lourdes Féliz refers to several cases of couples who in the midst of the pandemic had to assume their “failures, differences, deceptions and emotional distances” and chose to break the marriage contract.
“Motivations are no different from the usual ones, i.e. the struggle of power between them, problems of respect and communication, money and infidelities,” he says.
“I believe that the ‘mandatory’ coexistence due to the issue of quarantine and remote work from home, for couples who already had a worn, fractional or defective relationship, has been too much for them and has convinced them that the best is the definitive separation,” Féliz continues.
Quarantine, then, would only have uncovered weaknesses that had been crawling from before.
Other couples who have imposed separation claims in this period of crisis, report from a firm specializing in express divorces, were already de facto separated.
Other facets of family law have been altered in these months, reports Katherine Matos.
Suspensions and dismissals during the pandemic have resulted in parents who must pay a food pension late in fulfilling this obligation.
In other cases, parents who have always failed to comply find a perfect justification for remaining in default and in violation of the law.
“It is important to note that the obligation to provide food to children does not go away, especially if there is a judgment setting the amount of the contribution. Each case must be assessed in a particular way to know whether the person has actually been fired or reduced his income to adjust the amount of the maintenance pension to that reality, but never abolish his obligation,” Matos argues.
With regard to parental visits, a right that involves constantly mobilizing children from one household to another, they could be affected by putting the families involved at risk of contagion.