Manhattan couple becomes first in New York City to be granted 'essential' divorce amid coronavirus lockdown

The case proceedings, which got hit by the lockdown, saw the attorney driving to the judge's residence to pick the signed papers


                            Manhattan couple becomes first in New York City to be granted 'essential' divorce amid coronavirus lockdown
(Getty Images)

At a time when everything essential in life has come to a screeching halt, a New York City couple managed to do something unique. It became the only pair in Manhattan to bag a divorce during the ongoing coronavirus lockdown after a judge on Wednesday, May 20, agreed that their split was essential. According to a Daily Mail report, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Katz signed an emergency application on May 13, and soon after, the divorce judgment was signed by the county clerk. The Mail obtained court documents that confirmed the news. 

The case of the couple, whose identities were not revealed, was pushed through while the city’s judiciary is working remotely and with a skeleton crew. It is also handling only essential cases. That the couple was desperate was evident from the words of divorce attorney Morghan Richardson who told the New York Daily News: “My client was very much in a desperate situation, and this was one way that could rectify that situation for her.” He said her client, the woman partner, was crying after getting the legal relief since it was tied to an immigration issue. “Had we not been successful in getting this divorce entered, it really would have had dire consequences on her life,” Richardson said. The matter related to immigration was not confirmed though.

Attorney drove to judge’s house to pick signed documents

The attorney said she asked Justice Katz what would be convenient for him to meet her for the papers since the county clerk needed the original signed document. The judge asked her to pick them from his house and Richardson called it the "single most bizarre occurrence of my professional career", the Daily News report added. Court records showed the couple’s divorce proceedings started in March, just before NYC and New York state shut under the lockdown orders. Both NY state and city have seen alarming death rates caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The final divorce papers could not be filed because of the lockdown.

NYC courts to accept non-emergency legal paperwork electronically

It was on the same day when the couple’s divorce was finalized that New York state’s Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks lifted the ban on non-essential lawsuits in NYC counties. From Monday, May 25, courts in the city will begin accepting non-emergency legal paperwork electronically, including those related to lawsuits and divorces. The resumption will see the courts facing a big backlog since all non-essential legal proceedings were kept suspended because of the lockdown. Precautionary measures will be followed while running the court proceedings, including wearing of masks and observing social distancing.

“I think that New York divorce is pretty well known for being a slow process already, comparatively, and this has made it tremendously slower,” Richardson told the Daily News. “The fact is that clients who are waiting right now, even once things start again, there’s gonna be a huge backlog. I foresee it slowing down the process so much more,” she added.

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