In any divorce, there are 3 key stages: the first divorce consideration is the decision about whether to divorce, the second is moving forward through the divorce process you’ve chosen, and the third is finalizing the details of the divorce. This is true whether you’re divorcing at a time when the outside world is relatively stable or whether you’re moving through the process when there’s a global pandemic.
Regardless of where you may be in your divorce process, here are some tips for how to adjust to a constantly shifting environment and the timelines, expectations and assumptions you may have been counting on before the world was put on pause.
1. Deciding Whether to Divorce: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Perhaps you’ve been unhappy in your marriage for months or even years and you’ve previously raised the issue of divorce with your spouse, but you kept putting off making the final decision for emotional or financial reasons. Now you’re stuck in the same home 24/7 with the person you no longer want to be married to and you’re homeschooling kids on top of it. You may feel stuck and as if you have no way out. You may be feeling a lot of anger at yourself for not making the decision sooner to end the marriage. On top of that, your spouse may be using the situation as a reason to make you feel guilty and may be trying to convince you to keep the marriage together for the sake of the family.
It may not be possible to actually leave the marriage right now as you shelter in place, but you can use this time to prepare yourself for when life returns to normal. This means discussing your situation with a divorce attorney and understanding the legal landscape and the issues that you will have to resolve when the time comes. It means taking a hard look at your financial situation and having realistic expectations for what is or isn’t possible once you make the decision to separate. This means continuing to stay in therapy or work with a divorce coach to increase your resilience and make decisions in a more powerful way in the future. We believe so strongly in coaching, that our firm is now offering a program to help our clients focus on their mindset, their resiliency and the ability to ask for what they need. Contact us to find out more about this.
Getting a handle on your legal, financial and emotional situation now, will allow you to be a more powerful advocate for yourself the next time you tell your spouse “I want a divorce.”
2. Adjusting Your Divorce Process to The New Reality
If you are already in the middle of your divorce and you’ve chosen Mediation or the Collaborative Divorce process, you can keep moving through the process. You may need to take a pause for a little while to allow yourself and your spouse to get your bearings, but your mediator, lawyers and other divorce professionals are going to be able to continue working with you through Zoom and other video options as soon as you and your spouse are ready to proceed.
If you chose the litigation route for your divorce, you already know the courts are closed and your case is on hold. You may have recently thought “I’ll finally have my day in court,” only to learn that such a day is a very long way off. My best suggestion for you is to consider putting your anger aside and consider out-of-court divorce processes such as mediation and collaborative divorce that will help you reach a resolution in spite of what may be a very high level of conflict. It’s never too late to pivot from a litigation process to an out-of-court process.
3. The Final Stage of A Divorce
If you are near the end of your divorce, you and your spouse have made many assumptions along the way that may now need to be re-examined. Your financial situation and concerns may look very different now than they did a month ago, and that may mean that instead of having discussions about trading off assets (“You keep the house, I’ll keep the business,” or “You keep more of the retirement plans, I’ll keep the stock options.”) you may now need to consider dividing each asset equally so that neither of you is more negatively impacted by falling values. Your incomes may be reduced or eliminated. Asset values and returns on investments may no longer be known and the need for support from the other spouse may now be much greater than previously thought
You and your spouse may need to take a step back, put things on hold and wait to see where things end up. Or, you can continue moving forward but will want to negotiate very clear terms for how to modify your agreement in the future. For example, even if your employment situations still seem stable, I might recommend making sure your Agreement states that if either party loses their job, it will be an immediate cause for re-calculating the spousal support and child support agreement that was reached. Similarly, if you are agreeing to terms based on one party being unemployed, your Agreement may address what happens when income rises in the future.
Considering what to do during divorce is never easy. During this pandemic, those considerations can be even more difficult. Contact us if you need help understanding your options and how to move forward.