Parting ways is never easy, but COVID-19 has definitely made my job as a divorce lawyer a lot more challenging these days, particularly while people shelter in place and the Maryland courts remain closed for non-emergencies through June 5th. But those of us that like a challenge are doing our best to rise to the occasion in order to ensure that people remain fully aware of their rights and options while we all adopt to a “new norm.” So here are my 6 key tips for couples looking to separate:
- Consult a Lawyer- before you make any major changes, you need to get a roadmap from an experienced matrimonial attorney that will explain to you all your obligations, the issues that need to be addressed, and your options for finalizing the divorce process. Consults are done as a flat fee, and your attorney should then be able to give you an estimate of the fees moving forward if you choose to hire him/her on a retainer.
- Understand Finances– gather all your information pertaining to your income, assets and liabilities and reach out to your financial advisor or CPA with any questions. If you don’t think you can use savings to finance the separation and divorce process, explore all your options for obtaining a loan, and make sure you develop a realistic budget for yourself.
- Get Insurance Quotes– reach out to your insurance agent and find out not only what you currently have, but what you might need going forward, such as your own health insurance once you cease to be eligible as part of your spouse’s plan or life insurance to cover any alimony or child support payments expected of you over the next several years.
- Estate Planning– it is unlikely that you will want your estranged spouse to inherit from you, or make any medical or financial decisions for you if you are incapacitated. As a result, you will need to find an estate attorney that can either create or update your existing documents, including a will, powers of attorney and medical directive, usually for a flat fee.
- Real Estate– at least 50% of the time, the marital home is sold in a divorce because the other party is unable to buyout the other party’s interest and qualify on his/her own to refinance the existing mortgage to get the other person off the loan. Therefore, you need to reach out to an experienced realtor you both trust to get the house ready for sale at a price that s/he thinks is reasonable. Often, this same realtor can help you look into new housing options.
- Find a Coach-as you can see from the list above, there are a lot of moving pieces to this process, and it is normal to become a bit emotional or overwhelmed at times. You will need someone to lean on for emotional support, more than just a friend. In fact, it should be a professional that is trained on helping you (1) prioritize the tasks to be accomplished, (2) stay focused and calm, (3) communicate your needs and wants effectively.
Hopefully you can appreciate that it takes a team approach to help restructure a family. It is often a big part of my job to help coordinate the efforts of all the key players, almost like the conductor of a great orchestra such that if everyone does their part, then at the end maybe you will be able to look back and enjoy the sweet sound of the symphony created in honor of your new-found freedom.
To help couples better understand the importance of each key component to a divorce process, as mentioned above, I created a limited series of short videos on Youtube to help families separating during COVID-19. Each segment has an expert in one of the fields described in this article, and here is a 5 minute introductory video covering more of the legal issues, which has been my focus for over 20 years:
Stay safe, and remember we are all in this together!
By Regina A. DeMeo