Your divorce process was just beginning, then the coronavirus hit. Or perhaps you were contemplating divorce and with the tidal wave of coronavirus-related economic impacts and health concerns has given you pause.
You and many others are now wondering if it makes sense to wait out the “storm” of the coronavirus before getting divorced.
We simply don’t know how long the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) will cause a major restructuring in every aspect of our lives.
Divorce and Coronavirus: Does it Make Sense to Wait?
Read below about the factors and considerations for how these changes may affect your decision to divorce. I divided these factors into health issues, financial issues, and settlement issues.
Cost of Coronavirus Testing and Treatment
While the details and availability remain to be seen, the U.S. government has pledged to work with health departments and health care providers to provide free testing and treatment to people with major symptoms or contraction of COVID-19.
Health Insurance Availability and Cost
If you are getting divorced and have been covered under your spouse’s health insurance plan, under the COBRA law you may elect to continue your health insurance coverage with that same plan for a period of up to 36 months. But can you afford the COBRA extension? The monthly costs of remaining on that same health plan vary depending on the plan.
This cost is essentially the sum of the amount your spouse and their employer contributes to the plan each month, with an additional 2% service charge. In most cases people find plans that are more affordable than the COBRA option, typically with lower benefits.
Divorce Stress and Immunity
The best health protection regarding COVID-19 for you and your family is to build and maintain your immunity. Stress significantly diminishes the immune system and divorce is one of the most stressful events people experience in life. The conflict, uncertainty, moving homes, shifting friendships, financial pressure, etc. make for a whirlwind of change. Not only is this upheaval stressful, but people’s capacity to take care of themselves often decreases.
Even if you are emotionally disconnected or numb in your marriage, is it relatively comfortable and peaceful to maintain the status quo? Or is there enough daily hurt, blame, control, feeling trapped or other unhealthy dynamics such that a divorce would ultimately relieve stress? If you choose to move forward with the divorce, there are many things you can do to minimize the stress, including these Top 10 Divorce Tips.
Job and Income Loss
For most people, divorce tends to be a financial strain. Supporting two homes instead of one home with the same income(s) result in additional expenses. However, the 2019 coronavirus pandemic will result in millions of people losing income from unpaid sick leave, lower sales, or even losing entire jobs. If you or your spouse are likely to lose income, you may question the timing of your divorce. Will you both be able to pay rent? Buy groceries? The U.S. government will be some form of financial support for affected employees and businesses. Will that apply to your family and be enough to get by?
These additional expenses for supporting two homes can be minimized if you are creative and flexible. Many cohabitating spouses entering divorce no longer share a bedroom anyway. Could you instead share a home with a couple of other adults or other parents? Even without a divorce, many people will need to creatively reduce their housing and living expenses in the age of the coronavirus.
Loss of Wealth
If your marital wealth is held in stocks or market-based mutual funds, you may have already experienced a substantial drop in the value of your assets. Should you stall the divorce until the coronavirus economic effect has passed? Since marital assets are generally equally divided, a market decline or crash would not be a reason to postpone your divorce. If you each walk with half of the devalued stocks when the market recovers each of your stocks will similarly increase in value.
The Costs of Divorce
Depending on the complexity, conflict and the approach you choose for how to get a divorce, it will normally cost anywhere from $300 to $30,000. The economic impacts of coronavirus may inspire you both to approach your divorce in the most collaborative manner. Divorce Mediation typically costs 10% to 25% of what an attorney-driven divorce will cost. There are many additional benefits of divorce mediation, which will reduce stress and improve your teamwork. This may be essential for parents as additional economic hardships may be on the horizon of a coronavirus-related economic recession.
Will Court Be Open?
Beginning mid-March, 2020, a growing number of states, the judges and other court staff are working remotely. Any new or scheduled cases that involve oral argument are being postponed for 2-4 months. If you are in the 95% of divorcing spouses, who submit their filing paperwork after reaching a settlement between attorneys or with a mediator, this is unlikely to affect you. Your will still be able to process your divorce through the family court system.
Will Family Law Attorney and Mediator Offices be Open?
Many attorneys and mediators will be offering their services via teleconference or video conference. Some attorneys and mediators will keep their doors open, depending on the area in which you live. If the divorce professional is meeting with people in person, ask about their office’s coronavirus cleaning and disinfection practices after each appointment. If they don’t clean the desks, chairs, doorknobs and railings, select a different professional that does.
If you or your spouse are losing income, this will affect the amount of child support that is paid. However, the joint resources you each have available to care for the children is what you have. It is fair that child support is based on that. When either of your incomes increase or decrease, your child support should be adjusted accordingly.
Spousal Support is normally established with a set amount, start and end date. This can be tricky in a time of economic and income uncertainty. Yet, the determination of spousal support is not much different than pre-coronavirus world. It is set based on the best guess of each person’s income and income potential. If the person paying spousal support loses income and has a diminished ability to pay, the two of you will negotiate a lower amount or the payer will file a modification in court until their income has recovered.
DO I WAIT OR COMPLETE THE DIVORCE?
The answer is dependent on your personal, family and economic situation. After reviewing the considerations in this article, you may find the divorce reluctance amidst of the 2019 coronavirus outbreak may be significant enough to wait it out, or negligible enough to follow through with the divorce anyway.