Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus: From a Legal Perspective

divorce agreement

Divorce-related searches have increased by 32% as the pandemic ensues, as reported by several news stations. Despite the increase in searches, divorce rates are still down. But it’s no wonder that people are getting more interested in the topic than normal—time spent at home together has increased, with couples watching each other all the time.

Shelter-in-place directives have forced couples to remain indoors, without the distractions of visits from friends or outdoor activities. This has put needs and frustrations on display, while patience is shorter than ever. Some can work through the challenge together; others end up in a divorce.

Divorces are already demanding and nerve-racking to begin with. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, stress levels are even higher. Aside from the see-sawing stock market and lost jobs, couples who are bent on getting a divorce have to deal with suspended-in-person proceedings. Some courts have allowed e-filing of divorce proceedings to remedy this. Other family courts have reopened, but there are ongoing delays with the huge backlog of cases and a pent-up demand for divorce.

To make sure that your divorce proceedings go smoothly as we adapt to “the new normal,” here are a few actions that you can take:

Review the list of options you have for the divorce

Contrary to what is presented on television, the divorce process has more than one procedure. The option you choose will depend on how complex your situation with your spouse is. To help you decide, we list out the most popular options:

  • Summary — Summary divorce is “simple.” You can take this streamlined process if you don’t own many assets, you weren’t married for long, you have no significant joint debts, and you don’t have any children. Only a few forms need to be filled out and filed for this. It can be done without a lawyer.
  • Mediated — This is another common option. Both parties would rather resolve issues out of court with the help of a mutually agreed-upon neutral third party called the mediator. The mediator serves as a guide throughout the process, helping both parties agree.
  • Collaborative — This process is like mediation, wherein contention is resolved between both parties without taking things to court. The only difference is that instead of getting a mediator, you will collaborate with a team of lawyers, a child specialist (if necessary), a counselor, and a financial neutral to come to an agreement. If the divorce isn’t settled through the process, they will hire different lawyers and start from square one or take the case to trial.
  • Attorney-to-attorney — For this traditional process, communication between both parties on the issues being addressed in the divorce is discouraged. Instead, it will be their attorneys that will work on the settlement.
  • Litigation — This is for high-conflict divorces where couples cannot agree upon the issues. The judge will be the one to make the final decisions.

Determine which process suits your unique situation best. You can then assemble your team of professionals based on what you have chosen.

Gather your financial information

A critical part of divorce is dividing the marital assets. For this, you will need information on your assets and liabilities that your team can work with to develop different options on the settlement. These include:

  • Pay statements
  • Income
  • Bank accounts
  • Pensions
  • Businesses
  • Retirement plan
  • Investment accounts
  • Tax returns
  • Savings plan
  • Real estate
  • Car loans
  • Mortgages
  • Payday loans
  • Credit card debt
  • Student loans
  • Other assets and liabilities

Because of pandemic restrictions, it is best to get and share all this information through secure online portals. You might need to update your information as you negotiate. Since assets are valued on your official separation date and paid out later on, make sure that you talk to your lawyer on how to get more certainty when dividing assets.

Review parenting and living arrangements

mother and daughter hugging

Figuring out a co-parenting plan was already difficult before the pandemic. But because of COVID-19, there is so much more to consider. First, you need to figure out arrangements for how the children will travel safely back and forth between households. If your children are to be homeschooled due to pandemic restrictions, these duties will need to be shared as well.

Another thing that you need to review is your living arrangements. If you plan on buying or selling your marital home, valuing it will be more difficult as housing markets are less stable. Research what real estate options you have as thoroughly as possible if you plan on moving. Even if downsizing is the best option for your budget, you must also consider that your home may be fuller as children will stay home more because of the pandemic.

Settle Your Budget

Many people have lost their jobs because of the lockdown. Others have lost their incomes for their businesses. Determine whether you have enough money to cover your living expenses post-divorce, including child support and spousal support payments.

If you will be the one making support payments, understand that these may continue even if you lose your job after the divorce. These will only be cut back if the court agrees. This also affects those who are receiving payments, considering that they might lower anytime. You can talk to your lawyer about including a COVID-19 clause in your agreement to clear things up.

Safety First During Meetings

It may be safer to conduct the start of the divorce process through phone or video calls. There are many videoconferencing applications available that let you discuss things as a group, or privately through “break-out” rooms. For in-person meetings, make sure that everyone follows safety protocols such as social distancing and wearing face masks.

Despite all the challenges, getting a divorce during the COVID-19 pandemic is possible. It might just need more adjustments and planning than before. Following our advice, you can successfully navigate through the divorce process so that you can move on to better times.

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