Right now, even if you wanted to file for a separation or divorce, courts are closed during this COVID-19 crisis except for emergency matters. Once they do re-open, all those cases that were filed prior to the closures have to be rescheduled, which means your case will most likely not be wrapped up in 2020– unless you roll up your sleeves and do the hard work upfront, so that by the time you file you qualify for a fast-track uncontested divorce that most courts streamline through the system.
How will you get to a comprehensive agreement? Probably not without some help. If you have kids, you need to work out a Parenting Plan, which at a minimum lays out a regular time-sharing schedule, holidays, and a mechanism for making major decisions. Experienced family mediators, mental health professionals or parent coaches know how to assist couples develop a thoughtful contract that addresses everyone’s needs, with the child’s best interest being the top priority.
With respect to money issues, let’s be honest– all of us just took a huge hit as a result of this coronavirus pandemic. The assets are what they are now, not what they were last year or even last month. Excluding families with the top 10% of the wealth, the finances for most couples are not that complicated. Gather the information related to all your income, assets and liabilities, and find a way to fairly distribute what you accumulated during the marriage. Again, if you need help with this, reach out to a financial professional, family mediator or matrimonial attorney that can assist you with finding a solution.
What I predict will be the thorniest issue is support. Child support calculators are very helpful, but what if a person’s income for 2020 is unclear? Also, in many jurisdictions, like DC and MD, we don’t have calculators for spousal support/alimony claims– instead we try to take a balanced approach looking at one person’s reasonable needs and the other’s ability to pay. Given the current situation around the entire world, I think we can all acknowledge that everyone is going to need time to rebuild their earning capacity, and no one can predict how long that will really take.
Now more than ever, couples separating will need assistance developing creative and compassionate solutions. Hopefully, they will reach out to professionals with proven experience in reaching out-of-court conflict resolutions in order to achieve a legal compromise that allows them to bypass the backlogged court system and move forward while preserving as much of their resources as possible.
Below is a video on family mediation, which I have been providing since 2006. It can be done remotely, and is an affordable pay as you go option.
By Regina A. DeMeo