B&C SPONSORED PODCAST: Family Law attorney Tonya MacBeth on how the Pandemic Impacted Divorced Families

Published on in Meet Our Attorneys

Listen to the AZ Big Media podcast Sponsored by Burch & Cracchiolo

Tonya MacBeth on schooling, masks and overall communication during COVID-19 when parents are divorced:

Michael and Amy talk to the renowned family law attorney from Burch & Cracchiolo about the pandemic and how its impacted the nation’s divorce rate, as well as how separated households make parenting decisions surrounding COVID-19.

Tonya is admitted to practice law in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, and in the U.S. District Courts for the Districts of Arizona and New Mexico. Tonya is a litigation attorney; prepared to resolve cases through mediation or take the case to trial. Her practice focuses on Family Law

Podcast Transcript:

Michael Gossie
Hi, and welcome to the AZ Big Podcast sponsored by Burch and Cracchiolo. I'm Michael Gossie and I'm joined by my co-host Amy Lindsey. Today, we are joined by the amazing Family Law Attorney Tonya MacBeth from Burch and Cracchiolo. Welcome, Tonya.

Tonya MacBeth
Thank you for having me.

Amy Lindsey
Tonya, can you tell us about yourself and the focus of your law practice?

Tonya MacBeth
Sure, I am a shareholder at Burch & Cracchiolo. I've been there since 2008 and the focus of my practice is family law. That's divorces, parenting plans, modifications on legal decision making. It's an exciting and challenging practice area and I love it.

Michael Gossie
So, this must be a crazy time for you. With the impact of COVID on family law. Can you talk a little bit about what have you seen as the biggest impact that COVID has had on your practice?

Tonya MacBeth
You know, I think, really, it's people having to deal with the changing circumstances. There is so much happening in terms of schools and vaccinations that, that, parents who weren't getting along all that great before are now trying to find some area of agreement on very complex issues and it's challenging.

Michael Gossie
Have you seen the actual divorce rate rise because of parents who were stuck together during the pandemic? Who maybe had to spend more time together than they had to before?

Tonya MacBeth
Well, the statistics are showing that people are getting divorced at a higher rate, but it was pretty high already. So, I think that the families that were having trouble in quarantine are certainly going to -- they were going to have trouble anyway, so.

Michael Gossie
Can you talk a little bit about the cultural divide you've seen that maybe COVID brought on or brought to the forefront?

Tonya MacBeth
You know, that's one area where you're right. Quarantining really did bring that to a full focus where people who maybe kept their own political views. Or, the mild disagreements that they may be having out to themselves. It's so vocal and so dynamic in the community that people, I think are speaking their minds a little bit more, and that's causing some significant challenges in making decisions about when the children are eligible to be vaccinated. Will they be vaccinated? The school may not be mandating masks, but one parent sends the child to school with the mask, and the other parent disagrees and discourages mask-wearing, and it's causing the children to sort of live in two separate parallel universes in a way that always existed, but now it is, shall we say right on their face.

Michael Gossie
So, how do you manage that as a family law attorney? How do you counsel your clients when these issues come up?

Tonya MacBeth
The issue is what's a big enough problem to get in front of a judge with, and will your particular judge really have any sympathy for your particular position?

So, if you're in a particular, in, keep saying particular. If you’re in a judges courtroom who takes the philosophy that people should just put their differences aside and get along on behalf of the children. What they consider to be petty disagreements will not carry much water in the courtroom, and you can really suffer some consequences. You know having to pay the other person's attorneys fees. But, if you have say a medically vulnerable person in your home and you're asking for masks to try and help protect that vulnerable person.

Whether that's the child or some other member of the family, then the judge may have more sway. So, an attorney really has to look at the depth of the problem, the consequences of the opposite parties choice, and then decide whether or not it's worth walking into a courtroom with.

Now, obviously we try to mediate everything and not go to evidentiary trials. Just because I think the old parable is King Solomon cutting the baby in the half, you don't necessarily want to give everything over to a third party. You want to be able to shape that solution for yourself, but ultimately, if everybody is staunchly in this, their own camp. You're going to have to go to trial and you're going to have to weigh how big is the dispute.

So, you can have disagreements that sometimes you just have to live with.

Michael Gossie
You talked a little bit about going to the courtroom. Are you actually live in the courtroom now or how is that right now at this point of the COVID pandemic?

Tonya MacBeth
Oh, it's a whole new world out there. We have been out of the courtroom for a majority of our proceedings. Since I'd say March of 2020. I'm not sure about the exact date, but it's been happening a long time and everything is virtual. It's by video conference. We've changed platforms over time, but we're generally appearing on video conference with exhibits that are digitally saved from many locations. Sometimes I have my clients come into my office so that they can feel as though they can, you know, ask me a question in the hallway kind of thing like we used to do with trials. But, sometimes for lower proceedings, people actually are staying in their own homes.

I find that the more exhibits you have, the more difficult it is to appear by video conference, and the longer the preceding, the more fatigue comes in.

And, the video conference is really impacting the emotional impact, I’m impacting the impact there, the longer the proceeding is with a video conference, you just lose the value of the in-person exchange that you used to have in trial and I think you can lose the attention of the witness and the judge, if you’re not careful.

Amy Lindsey
Have to change up strategies a little bit with that I’m sure?

Tonya MacBeth
Oh, absolutely.

Amy Lindsey
So, Tonya, COVID has obviously impacted people's income here in the valley. What does that impact, has it had on spousal support issues?

Tonya MacBeth
You know it is a difficult process because the payor may be suffering from a lower income at the same time that the person who would be receiving doesn't have the same options that they did for earning.

There are a lot of people who are in middle to late middle age who would qualify for spousal maintenance where there just isn't the income to support the spousal maintenance that is necessary to deal with the increase in housing cost.

The change in the job market is where perhaps an older person is nervous about being in a public-facing position, and they're not equipped with their own skills to do remote work type jobs. So, they're facing that dynamic where they need employment, but they can't really be out in the world the same way that we would like to be.

Now, hopefully, with very effective vaccines, the workforce is going to start moving around. There are a lot of people who are reporting that they're going to quit. They're going to change jobs when things settle down a bit, and that should create some liquidity in the employment market, but hiring people and finding the job that meets somebody's needs is difficult.

And, spousal maintenance is based on the person's ability to meet their own reasonable need. Their economic ability to meet those needs and the other person's ability to pay. So when you're seeing pressure on all fronts, that dollar is still just one dollar. It has to stretch in a brand-new way.

Amy Lindsey
I'm sure the daycare issues come into play with that as well as the support.

Tonya MacBeth
Absolutely, with the younger people who are qualifying for support.

Being able to manage childcare needs while in the workforce is extremely difficult. So, whereas the courts used to presume that children would be in childcare, that was just part of the American life experience. But, now that presumption is not necessarily true or available.

Michael Gossie
Yeah, I have an important question for you, but before that I just want to say the attorneys at Burch and Cracchiolo have been proving for more than 50 years that a successful business or legal case of any kind starts when you hire the right lawyer, let them prove it to you. Learn more at bcattorneys.com, that's bcattorneys.com.

OK, one thing I wanted to ask you is our housing market is going crazy right now. I think Phoenix was number one in the country for the biggest housing price increase last year. How has that impacted family law? How is it, you have this big asset, but what do you do with it now? So how is that? How has that impacted your practice?

Tonya MacBeth
Yeah, usually the house is the largest asset in the marital community and it needs to be divided.

So, people have to buy out of the other person, or the house has to be sold in the proceeds split. A lot of people don't have the money to buy out wth this jump in pricing. And, appraisals haven't necessarily caught up with the market.

So, there's little, if you’re deciding what the value is based on an appraisal, there's a lot of pressure to just put it on the market and see if it's going to get bid up, but remember when you have this one house now, there are two people trying to buy two houses as a result, or rent which is extremely high in the valley as well so that money isn't going as far as it used to. So, it's definitely making people anxious and concerned about the future and I see that as the biggest real impact on my practice is moving people through the decision-making process is more difficult because of their own inherent concerns about what the future will bring.

Michael Gossie
What do people need to keep in mind if they're thinking about getting a divorce right now in the middle of COVID? What is the, what is the biggest obstacles or challenges that you're seeing that these couples are facing?

Tonya MacBeth
Well, once you, once you make the emotional decision to get a divorce, then you have a good lawyer. One would hope to help you make rational financial decisions and to let you understand. What the law would likely do if you were placed in front of a judge, so that you can formulate a plan for the division of the marital community that is based in reality in good advice, and you can move forward successfully under that rubric. But, I think most people need to understand that they don't have to divide everything up in their heads before they file the 1st paperwork.

What they need to do is consult with an attorney, talk about the overall big picture and then the attorney will help start gathering the numbers and the documents to make the more specific plan. You don't have to solve everything before you take that first step.

Michael Gossie
OK, how about the parents who are already divorced? One parent wants to get a vaccine, the other parent doesn't. One parent wants a mask, the other doesn't. What advice do you have for them?

Tonya MacBeth
It's a real challenge. Medical decision-making is part of most parents’ joint legal decision-making plan where everybody has an equal opinion, so breaking those ties on vaccines, I think are going to be a big challenge coming up for the family law practice.

Because the vaccination rate is age is down to 12. We haven't seen a lot of it. Parents with children 13 to 16. The kids are going to have a voice in it, and sometimes the parent on the out is not going to participate. And, when vaccinations become a precursor to say participation in certain activities children are going to have more of a say, but for those kids 12 and under that's going to be a very difficult challenge from the courts, and I can't really predict what each individual judge here in Maricopa County will do. But, I expect we're going to have to bring experts in to talk about whether or not vaccines in the best interest of a particular child in a particular family and not try to say vaccines as a whole are good or bad, but to really individuate that question before the court.

Michael Gossie
OK, we're running out of time here, but I have one question that I have to ask you. The impact of technology and this might be for a whole different segment, but what is the impact of technology had on family law in terms of family-sharing shared devices? What kind of impact has technology had on your practice?

Tonya MacBeth
You know, I think the best thing that has happened with the whole use of video conferencing in the work world is the use of video conferencing and the acceptability of that for face-to-face conversations between child and parent on the other parents time. So, a longer parenting schedule with one parent is more acceptable now because the child maybe will check in with the parent they're not staying with for that for a few minutes before going to bed. They could read a bedtime story together, or play a game together, whereas years ago, let's face it, pre-COVID parents were basically only relying on the telephone for communication, some FaceTime. But, now there's a whole lot of meaningful interaction that occurs, and I think it's going to allow longer periods of time with each parent.

Michael Gossie
Well, great, Tonya. That's all our time. We could have talked to you all day. This is fascinating. Thank you so much for listening to the AZ Big Media, AZ Big Podcast with Michael and Amy, and once again thank you to Tonya MacBeth from Burch and Cracchiolo. And thank you to our sponsors, Burch and Cracchiolo.


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