What do you know about getting a divorce during a pandemic?
I got divorced during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Sounds like something printed on a t-shirt, right? But it’s true. My husband walked out at the beginning of 2020, which meant we were negotiating the divorce during the first wave of COVID-19. Divorce is never for the faint of heart and the pandemic added another layer of complexity.
If you just can’t stand the thought of a second wave lockdown with your no-longer-beloved, however, here are 10 things you should know about getting a divorce during a pandemic.
What You Should Know About Getting a Divorce During a Pandemic
1. Your Spouse May Not Be a Problem
Perhaps it’s an odd thing for a divorce coach to state, but you might not need a divorce. 25% of divorce coaching clients seek help in deciding whether to pursue a divorce or stay married, and we often discover that the source of a client’s unhappiness isn’t the spouse. The world is in kind of a mess right now and that guy at the other end of the sofa eating his chips too loudly might not be the only reason you feel miserable. Before you dive into something as serious as divorce, you want to make sure that you are not simply projecting the worry, fear, and boredom associated with living through a pandemic onto your marriage. Talk to a counselor or coach. Ask yourself some questions to isolate the issue, such as where specifically your marriage is holding you back. Perhaps you can make some other changes to your life – like changing jobs (if possible), scheduling weekly date nights (even if they have to be at home right now), or taking walks together in nature – to see if that has an impact before you file divorce papers.
2. Your Spouse May Be a Big Problem
On the other hand, it may be crystal clear that your spouse is the problem. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified toxicity in marriages and reports of domestic violence have increased. If you are being abused physically, emotionally, or financially, it is important to work on an exit strategy to keep you and your children safe. Lawyers, social workers, and women’s shelter staff are all working through the pandemic, and many have ways of contacting them without tipping off a spouse who’s also at home.
3. If You Need the Courts to During During the Pandemic, It’s Going to Be Slow
The family courts have been reopening, but there is a big backlog of cases. Judges are dealing with emergency issues such as cases where divorced parents cannot agree whether their children should be attending in-person school, and cases of abuse. If you think your divorce might rely on the courts to make your decisions, know that it’s going to take some time. Start getting prepared and working with a lawyer now. And if you are not anticipating a high-conflict divorce, consider alternate dispute resolution, like mediation or collaborative law, that does not rely on the courts.
4. It’s Harder to Value Market-Based Assets During a Pandemic
The law views your marriage is a business, and dividing the marital assets is a major part of ending your marriage. The stock and money markets are choppy right now, which means valuing your retirement and other savings plans is much tougher. Typically, things are valued as of the day you officially separate, but they may not be paid out until much later. Talk to your family lawyer about ways to get a little more certainty over the asset division given the market volatility.
5. Work Is Less Stable During COVID-19
Many people have lost their jobs and if we have a second wave lockdown, many more jobs will be lost. In a divorce, support payments flow from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse, and job loss complicates the issue. If you think you might be the one making support payments, know that if you lose your job, you may have to continue to make payments until a court agrees to lower them. And if you are the one receiving payments, know they can be cut back at any time. You may also want to include a COVID-19 clause in your separation agreement so it’s clear what happens if one party contracts the virus and can’t work. Talk to your lawyer.
6. Health Insurance Will Likely Change
Health insurance provided by your spouse’s workplace typically ends when you get divorced, so you will need to budget for coverage. If you have pre-existing medical conditions, finding new health insurance can be difficult and expensive. It’s important to talk about insurance coverage with your lawyer so you know exactly where you stand.
7. House Values Are Hard to Estimate for a Divorce During a Pandemic
If you are selling or buying out the marital home, it’s harder to value your house right now. Some housing markets have softened and others – such as some suburban and rural areas – have skyrocketed as city-dwellers flee crowded areas for more space.
8. Your Kids – Including Young Adults – May Be Home More
Some schools are back full time, others have a hybrid model, and others are fully online. Some families have chosen to home school. Some university-aged kids and young adults have returned to the nest as campus residences are closed or they can’t afford rent. For some, the pandemic has meant that the house is fuller and that has an impact on divorce if you’d planned to downsize or move to another place. Take this into consideration if you are contemplating leaving your marriage.
9. You May Need to Renegotiate Parenting Time: Kids May be Home Less
If you have younger children and are separating, parenting time will be divided, which means kids may be going back and forth between your home and your ex’s. Are you comfortable with this idea? What if schools close again during the COVID-19 pandemic? Have you and your ex made childcare provisions? Talk to your attorney about the various scenarios that could apply and get your wishes in ink.
10. Your Ability to Think Clearly May Be Compromised During COVID-19
Being in a state of stress impacts your ability to think clearly. Divorce involves a lot of decision-making involving your children and your financial stability, so it’s important that you be capable of thinking things through. If your thinking feels fuzzy due to worry, or fear, or lack of sleep, recruit a thinking partner to help you work through your decisions.
Divorce during a pandemic is not impossible – and sometimes it’s quite necessary. With some extra planning and an awareness of the potential pitfalls, you can navigate the process in spite of the complications.