Over the past several months, we have seen the widespread devastation caused by COVID-19 and witnessed how the ripple effect of the ongoing crisis has had an impact on what seems like every aspect of life, including the divorce process. Not only is COVID-19 expected to trigger an uptick in the divorce rate in the United States, owing to the fact that many couples have been forced to spend more time together within the confines of their home during quarantine, the coronavirus pandemic can also have an impact on the divorce process itself, as well as other key divorce-related issues, such as your finances, your living situation and your children. It is important to be aware of the various ways in which COVID-19 can affect your life during and after your divorce, so you can be prepared, protect yourself and make decisions that are in your best interest and the best interest of your family. For more information about how to handle your divorce during the COVID-19 pandemic, consult a reputable divorce attorney today.
COVID-19 and Divorce
While the ongoing coronavirus crisis has upended virtually every aspect of life and left many people feeling like they are at a standstill, including spouses considering divorce and those who were in the process of filing for divorce when the outbreak struck, your divorce does not have to come to a screeching halt because of COVID-19. Some spouses may prefer to postpone their divorce until after the COVID-19 threat has passed and things start to go back to normal, so they can concentrate on other issues that demand their attention, while other spouses may want to get a divorce as soon as possible. Some spouses who were on the verge of divorce before the pandemic are now desperate to make a change in their living situation after being confined with their spouse during quarantine.
Whether you choose to proceed with your divorce or hold off for now, you will likely have to take into consideration the impact COVID-19 has had on the economy, real estate values, financial markets, unemployment and other areas when negotiating your divorce settlement and making decisions about your assets, your children and your home. The following are some factors you should consider when going through a divorce during COVID-19:
- The impact of the pandemic on your divorce timeline,
- Your financial settlement,
- Your home appraisal or business valuation,
- Your living expenses,
- Your plan to sell or keep the house,
- Your co-parenting or custody arrangement,
- Whether you have been abused or accused of abuse, and
- Your family’s health and safety.
The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented situation and there are emerging issues spouses going through a divorce will have to consider to ensure that the outcome of their divorce is fair and just. The following are seven ways the coronavirus pandemic can affect your divorce and how to better prepare yourself for life during and after divorce.
We discussed in an earlier post what COVID-19 could mean for couples who are considering getting a divorce and those currently in the process of divorcing. The coronavirus outbreak and subsequent shutdown put a halt on divorces and other civil proceedings as many states closed down their courthouses, in full or in part, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Now that restrictions in many states are being lifted and courts are reopening and hearing cases in accordance with normal practices, divorce filings are expected to spike in the U.S. Unfortunately, things are off to a slow start, and as the courts struggle to deal with a backlog of cases while also handling new cases and ensuring compliance with strict health and safety measures, there is likely to be a significant delay when it comes to finalizing a divorce.
There are new policies and procedures in place in courthouses across the country, which could affect divorce cases in any number of ways, including how motions and petitions are filed, how the divorce proceedings are conducted, and the timeline for hearings or trial dates. If you are planning on filing for divorce in the coming weeks or months, you can expect the process to take significantly longer than it would normally. The best way to ensure that your divorce proceeds as quickly and efficiently as possible is to consult your divorce attorney to discuss how new COVID-19 rules could impact your case, whether your timeline has changed, and how delays in the divorce process could impact your life, post-divorce.
- Your Marital Assets and Liabilities
Couples and families across the U.S. have watched their finances shrink over the past several months as a result of the coronavirus downturn. Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 crisis continues, the ongoing uncertainty makes it nearly impossible to predict what your finances will look like in the coming months. This is an important consideration for couples going through a divorce, as a key component of negotiating a divorce settlement involves dividing marital assets, which for many couples, may be tied up in business interests or retirement and investment accounts. If COVID-19 has put you and your spouse further in debt, negotiating how these debts are allocated and paid may become a great deal more complicated. An experienced divorce lawyer can evaluate your options based on your specific situation and help you determine which solution gets you the best possible outcome.
- Your Job and Income
Adding to the significant divorce-related challenges posed by a changing financial landscape is the fact that one or both spouses may be facing job loss due to the COVID-19 recession. Losing your job or experiencing a substantial reduction in income in the midst of a divorce can make negotiations more difficult and may also result in changes to temporary support payments. If, after your divorce was finalized, you had planned to establish financial security by re-entering the workforce, you will have to consider whether the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the job market could affect your ability to obtain employment. If you are required to pay spousal support or child support, you may be wondering how losing your job or earning less income could impact your ability to stay on track with support payments. If you receive spousal support or child support payments, you are probably worried about whether the payments you rely on will continue in the coming weeks and months. Whatever your situation, your best bet is to discuss your options with your divorce lawyer and develop a plan that addresses any COVID-19-related financial complications or disputes to your satisfaction.
- Your Children
When schools across the country shut down earlier this year as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, many parents found themselves juggling a full-time job and having their kids home 24/7. Unprecedented school closures and cancelled activities have really thrown a wrench into the co-parenting schedules and routines that many parents going through a divorce spent weeks or even months negotiating. With the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year looming, there remains a great deal of uncertainty regarding whether kids will be going back to school or settling down for another year of e-learning, or both. With the COVID-19 crisis dragging on and few concrete answers regarding whether schools will reopen in the fall, it is more important than ever for divorcing spouses to come up with a custody or co-parenting arrangement that suits their respective work schedules and is in the best interest of their children. However thorough your parenting schedule may be, you will likely have to make changes as your children grow, attend different schools and participate in new activities, and working these changes out with your spouse will make the process easier and less stressful for everyone involved.
- Your Family’s Safety and Well-Being
Ensuring that your loved ones remain safe and healthy during this public health crisis is probably one of your foremost concerns, as well as your spouse’s. After all, there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19 and what we have seen so far is frightening. And the social distancing and stay-at-home measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 become significantly more complicated when children are splitting time between two households. It is common for parents in separate households to have different rules, but when it comes to practicing social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands, consistency and communication is critical. If one of your children contracts the virus, both households could be at risk for COVID-19, which has sickened nearly four million Americans, causing more than 140,000 deaths. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have developed guidelines for staying healthy and being compliant, transparent and understanding while co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Your Plans for the House
If you are going through a divorce and you own your home with your spouse, deciding whether to keep or sell the house will likely be one of the most difficult decisions you have to make. This is especially true during the ongoing pandemic. After all, if you decide to keep the house, you will have to consider how COVID-19 could affect your ability to keep up with the mortgage, pay utilities and maintain its general upkeep. If your job is at risk due to the coronavirus crisis, or if your spouse suffers a loss of income and is unable to make spousal or child support payments, you may find yourself suddenly unable to cover these costs. On the other hand, if you decide to sell, you will have to factor in the costs associated with selling and relocating, not to mention the impact of coronavirus on the housing market. The coronavirus pandemic is our new reality for now and if the path you originally decided on no longer makes sense in this reality, you may have to rethink your entire decision.
One unexpected consequence of the coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home orders put in place to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 is a sharp increase in the number of domestic violence calls, allegations and arrests across the country. Alleged acts of domestic violence occurring during COVID-19 can adversely affect victims as well as those accused of committing the abuse. While domestic violence victims may find that their access to resources is limited during COVID-19, enhanced efforts to identify and eliminate intimate partner abuse and family violence during the ongoing pandemic may result in innocent individuals severe criminal charges for domestic violence. If you have been the victim of domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis, the best way to protect yourself and hold your abuser accountable for his or her actions is to consult an experienced domestic violence lawyer. If you have been wrongfully arrested or charged with domestic violence during COVID-19, it is imperative that you seek legal help from a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can aggressively defend you against the charges. When you are facing charges for domestic violence, every second matters, so don’t wait to get legal help.
A Qualified Divorce Lawyer Can Help
Going through a divorce is difficult even under normal circumstances, but getting a divorce during COVID-19 will require a great deal more thought, planning and preparation as you consider all of the factors that could potentially come into play in the weeks and months to come. If you or your spouse are struggling with financial instability, job loss, illness or any other hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, your divorce could end up looking a lot different than you imagined. Whatever the circumstances of your divorce, it is always a good idea to consult a knowledgeable attorney who has experience handling divorce cases and can help guide you to a favorable resolution. There is no doubt that COVID-19 adds an extra layer of uncertainty and complexity to divorce proceedings and other related matters, such as child custody, co-parenting and spousal support, but with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer on your side, you can take control of whatever you can and simply prepare for the rest.