It seems like the ripple effect of Coronavirus has infected your divorce and everything else to go along with it. The most apparent impact is that most, if not all, courthouses are closed but for emergencies. This will inevitably delay your divorce, along with any temporary applications for spousal support, child support or custody.
Here are six less obvious areas to re-assess when going through a divorce, and actions you can take to prepare and protect yourself:
- Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution or Mediation:
Both options are potential solutions to closed courthouses. You can safely mediate your divorce using video conferencing.
A significant part of your divorce hinges on dividing assets, a lot of which may be tied up in retirement and investment accounts. If you are further in debt after this crisis, you are going have to negotiate how those debts get allocated and paid. Virtually every individual who has any money invested has seen their accounts shrink significantly from what they were worth even in mid-February. What’s more, the ongoing uncertainty means that the values may continue to see-saw, making it impossible to predict exactly what anyone will end up having. Negotiating your financial settlement during this turmoil will get tougher. It’s prudent to brace yourself for a significant period of lower values.
What You Can Do:
Look for re-balancing and tax planning opportunities. Focus on maximizing how much you will each walk away with. Investigate the benefits afforded by the CARES Act and any other benefits that will soften the blow from the crisis.
- Your Job & Paying the Bills:
A spouse losing their job or experiencing a dramatic change to their income in the middle of a divorce will change any temporary support payments and complicate negotiations. While the government has provided relief for taxpayers, it cannot do the same for individuals who pay or receive spousal and child support. If your or your spouse’s income has significantly changed, contact your attorney. While he or she may not be able to file for a modification of support, they can prepare the papers to be ready to go when the courts reopen.
What You Can Do:
As difficult as this may sound, work together to maximize your family’s income. Brainstorm with your spouse to figure out ways to cut costs and get creative with how and what you spend your money on.
- Plans for the House:
Are you planning to sell your house as part of the divorce? Deciding to keep or sell a home is a complex decision even in the best of times. The pandemic just added a huge unknown factor to those calculations. With the housing market in a temporary freeze, it is much harder to predict what the near and long-term impacts will be on home prices after the crisis passes. Consult with an experienced realtor in your area and be prepared to re-think your decision if that’s what makes the most sense in the new reality.
What You Can Do During the Coronavirus:
If you decide to keep your home, work with your spouse to see if you can re-finance. If you decide to sell, brainstorm creative ideas with your realtor for virtual tours and how to keep everyone safe if there is to be an in-person meeting. FaceTime with buyers to walk through the home and answer any questions.
- Your Kids:
Lack of school and activities have multiple ripple effects on parenting time and transitions. Most jurisdictions allow parents to temporarily alter the parenting agreement during coronavirus and are strongly encouraging parents to act in the best interest of the children and are admonished from taking actions that would impact the health of the children, including unnecessary travel. It is now critical to work together to create the best path for the children’s present and future well-being.
What You Can Do: Be intentional with the memories you want to create for your kids. They will remember this time and how you and your ex-spouse acted and reacted. Be role models for them.
- Your Family’s Health and Safety:
Are you on the same page with your spouse regarding social distancing and staying home during the coronavirus? It is important not to make decisions in a vacuum. Open the lines of communication and be consistent. All parties should act in everyone’s best interest.
Make sure you get some sort of physical activity every day. Create fun ways to interact with your kids during the coronavirus outbreak (and after!) and ensure that both parties are having meaningful contact – Facetime, Zoom or Skype calls will help the other parent feel less alone and separated from his or her family.