The Coronavirus pandemic has screwed up EVERYthing. That includes the already crummy landscape of divorce. A divorce is a lawsuit, and that means that the process is dependent on how well the court system is functioning. These days that’s a problem: the courts are backed up, everything in person has stopped almost everywhere, things are delayed, and peoples’ anxiety levels are higher than normal.
The sale of online self-help divorce agreements rose by 34% in the spring of 2020.
Financial insecurity, an unstable housing market, the flood of layoffs, the recession, financial market instability, the lack of in person school and activities for children, and differing opinions about COVD safety protocols are just a few, fun things that have married couples scrambling in fun, new ways. Even the most healthy marriages have faced new challenges over the past year and while some couples have reported their relationships stronger because of the increased, shared hardships, still more find themselves facing an uphill battle.
Couples who are looking for ways to separate face more barriers to getting divorced financially and legally.
The courts are working hard to manage these challenges: e-filing is an option for many courts and hearings are now often taking place online (on Zoom or WebEx). Mediation and other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is being employed more frequently as well. Mediation works very well online and allows parties in conflict to talk together with the mediator, or talk confidentially with the mediator and/or their attorney in ‘breakout rooms’. In situations where there is a history of abuse it works particularly well because it doesn’t require parties to be in the same room or even look at each other.
If parties come to an agreement, the mediator or an attorney can write up a stipulation of Memorandum of Understanding in real time for parties to sign. It can be submitted to the court and from there become an Order without ever having to step into a courtroom. Everything from parenting plans to the division of assets and debts can be resolved in online mediation quickly and affordably.
Despite the fact that most experts expected to see the rate of divorce rise in 2020, one study actually found that the divorce rates actually went down in the US, although this information is preliminary. It does not necessarily mean, however, that the pandemic strengthened couples’ relationships and helped stave off divorce. In my own practice, for example, I have talked to many people who want to divorce, but are afraid of the cost, job instability, housing instability, court closures, less income to pay for a divorce, and reliance on a spouse for housing and lockdown childcare.
Who knows what 2021 holds for divorce rates, or how couples will divorce or tackle the difficult challenges we still face through the pandemic? Many predict an uptick in divorce filings as things go back to normal – people who were unable to file last year will find fewer obstacles as things open up.
If you are among the people waiting for COVID to take a back seat before you file, here is a list of steps to increase your sense of stability and control from Forbes:
- Understand the impact of the virus on your divorce timeline, and on your divorce bill
- Reassess how much your financial settlement is likely to be affected and plan accordingly
- Realize recent settlement proposals will likely need to be re-negotiated and discuss with your lawyer whetherADR is applicable for your case
- Start updating your financial documents
- Expect that home appraisals and business valuations will likely need to be revalued
- Consider how you’ll pay for your living expenses during and after divorce
- Rethink your plan and timeline to sell your house
- Revisit your co-parenting arrangements to maximize stability and security for your kids and yourself
- Maximize steps to protect the health and safety of yourself, your children and those whose lives you touch.
- Show patience and grace with your kids, your spouse, others, and most of all, with yourself.
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