As a person who divorced amicably, I can tell you the process was a struggle. My ex-husband and I agreed to all of our terms on our own, without the involvement of two different lawyers — we had one write up our custody agreement and how we’d split our assets. I realize that’s the best case scenario, and I feel lucky.
I’ve heard from divorced friends who went through litigation for months (or longer), and it sounds like it was three times harder.
Throw a global pandemic into an already heart-wrenching situation and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and suffering. I never thought I’d have to say this, but I feel lucky my marriage ended while we weren’t in the middle of a crisis.
Our battle with COVID-19 has literally changed every aspect of our lives: how we grocery shop, how we socialize, how we work, and how we sanitize. It will most definitely change the divorce process as well.
ABC News reports that family law attorneys predict an upswing in divorces caused by this pandemic, based on a recent surge of inquiries and an increase in electronic filings. Susan Myres, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, tells ABC, “We are fielding calls right now from people who are tired of being in the same house with each other.”
But those trapped in an unharmonious home life may have to wait ever longer than usual. When jurisdictions do reopen, things will be delayed for some time. As Penelope Hefner, family law attorney and Principal of Sodoma Law Union, told Scary Mommy via email: “We normally tell people a divorce takes about 90 days to complete, but since divorces aren’t moving forward at this time, we can expect to see a much longer time frame, which could theoretically put us into 2021 by the time it is complete.”
A delay won’t be the only difference those seeking to part ways will have to face. There will be other snags we’ve never had to contend with.
Hefner explains that the party leaving the former joint residence may have issues with seeking new housing. “Landlords are hesitant to show properties and are worried about a tenant’s ability to pay, and lenders are going to tighten up criteria for mortgages.” It may not be as easy as it once was for one person to move out, so she advises that people may need to look at staying in the same home longer than they would have liked, or consider a “nesting” situation for custody purposes, at least temporarily.
For those who have kids, lawyers are seeing a lot of custody disagreements already. “We have some parents strictly following guidelines as to social distancing and sanitization. And then other parents who are quite comfortable operating as they did pre-COVID,” Hefner says. These disagreements are only going to escalate as society lifts restrictions, with parents arguing about when (and if) it’s safe to resume things like extracurricular activities and worship services.
The current and future job market will also affect those looking to split, explains Hefner. This may make it “difficult to set a long term amount of child and/or spousal support without knowing for sure what a person’s future income will be, or even if their recent employment or earnings will be what they once were.”
If your partner plans on seeking a divorce in the near future, Hefner suggests getting started now to avoid further tension. Mediation and arbitration can both be done virtually; these options not only provide quicker relief for parties, but also help alleviate the backlog that’s to come.
She also advises preparing ahead of time by gathering documents and information that attorneys almost always ask for that may take a long time to obtain, such as bank, credit card, and investment statements, as well as deeds and titles.
A divorce is already a long and painful process for most, and going through it in the midst (and the aftermath) of a pandemic adds further complications. COVID-19 hasn’t left any aspects of our lives untouched, and for those seeking to make changes to their marital status, it’s just another unpleasant ripple effect to endure.