2021 – The New Year's Resolution Divorce in the Time of Covid
With all of us gladly kicking 2020 to the curb and welcoming 2021 with open arms (from a six-foot distance, of course), how has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted how we think about divorce as a potential new year’s resolution? I have written before about how people often wait until after the holiday season concludes to finally move forward with their divorce matter for what could be numerous reasons – family, children, financial reasons, or simply the passing of what is typically a very busy December and the chance of a new slate with the start of a new calendar year. How has Covid changing our lives through 2020 and into 2021, however, impacted the decision to move forward with divorce?
From what our firm has experienced, and as we have previously discussed, the foremost impact on divorces has been how cases proceed from start to finish on an almost entirely virtual basis (whether in the Court system or otherwise). From that perspective, our practice has been changed on what, to some extent, will likely be a permanent basis. While our next blog post will touch upon Covid-related trends as we start the new year, it is understandable that our court systems are still heavily backlogged as trial judges are doing what they can to manage heavy case calendars under what remain almost entirely remote circumstances.
As for the number of people moving forward with divorces, we have experienced a substantial influx of new cases in recent months only confirming that people are not going to let Covid stand in their way of moving on with their lives or, perhaps, they are finally moving forward because Covid may have been the last straw in a marriage on the brink. In other words, even well before the end of 2020, people have been moving forward with divorces because they believe it is what they need to do to move on with their lives and often for those of their children in the most positive way.
So where does that leave you as 2021 is now underway? In many ways, what is happening may only help you make that final decision to move forward. For the most part, after many months of adjusting you have likely developed some routine that works for you regarding your employment, your children and schooling, and your financial situation. With all of that under control as well as it can be under the circumstances, you now know that you can move forward without further contemplation and with what is ideally as minimal disruption to all involved as possible.
As I previously blogged, here are a few steps/tips to keep in mind once you have made that decision to move forward with your divorce with some additional points to consider in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Find the right divorce attorney – I often say that finding the right divorce attorney will be one of the most, if not the most important thing you do when getting started. I cannot express how many people come to us after having retained another attorney with whom they are dissatisfied for any number of different reasons. Be sure that you are comfortable with the attorney you are hiring. What is the attorney’s reputation and style? Can you get along with that person – does his or her personality mesh well with your own or do you feel like you’re talking to a stranger every time you get on the phone? How responsive is the attorney to your needs? Does the attorney exclusively practice matrimonial law?
Also consider during the pandemic the attorney’s availability. Are they in the office? Working remotely? Do they have attorneys and staff available to assist on your case? How are they communicating with other attorneys and court staff? While we are all ideally more understanding when it comes to each other’s circumstances in today’s environment, ultimately your case is your life and you want to ensure that it is in the hands of not only the right person, but a person who can represent you as necessary to bring you to the conclusion.
Outline your divorce goals – Where do you want to end up when your divorce matter comes to an end? If you have children, do you want to be the primary custodian? Do you have plans on living elsewhere? From a financial standpoint, do you want to stay in the house? What are your needs? What are the children’s needs whether for basic essentials, child care, sports, medical and educational needs and more? If you have been out of the workforce or are looking for a career change, what are your plans going forward?
In today’s environment, how should you modify your divorce goals? Each case will likely present that question from a different perspective. For instance, has there been a financial change in circumstances that impacts upon your divorce matter and, if so, how are you going to address that situation. For instance, are you the dependent spouse counting on alimony and child support and the other spouse is no longer working, has experienced a reduction in income or, perhaps, is simply claiming that they are experiencing financial difficulties and you have to prove otherwise?
While answering all of these questions at the outset of the process may be difficult, having a sense of where you want to go will not only help you visualize how you want to get there, but it will also help guide your attorney in advising you of your legal rights and advocating for your desired position.
Gather your financial documents – In determining where you want to end up at the end of the divorce, know where you are at the starting line. To the extent possible, gather as many financial documents to which you have access regarding your incomes, financial accounts, home, family business, monthly expenses and more. Knowing what you have early on will help establish the marital universe within which you can establish those goals and aid your attorney in developing a strategy for your case. In today’s environment, especially if you or your spouse is claiming an impact on your financial circumstances, business value and the like be prepared to provide as much documented proof as possible substantiating your claims.
Having access to such information can take on an even greater level of urgency should you be dependent on financial support from a spouse who has suddenly decided that he or she no longer wants to allow you to live in a way that carries any resemblance to how you lived during the marriage.
Rely on your support system and professionals – We all want family and friends around us during the more stressful times in our lives and a divorce is certainly no exception. This seems to carry even greater resonance when considering what we have all gone through as a society during the past year.
Having people to confide in and talk to about choosing your attorney, as well as the choices you make during the divorce matter can be more important than you’ll ever realize. Also, do not hesitate to start meeting with a therapist or divorce coach if you have not already done so to better or strengthen your frame of mind as you go through the process. Having someone to confide in other than family members, friends and a divorce attorney, let alone someone with a professional background trained to help get you through difficult times, could prove invaluable.
While 2021 presents a new year like no other, divorce as a resolution – even, or perhaps more so, in today’s world - presents a clean slate and a chance to make positive change in your life. With the above steps in mind, you will hopefully be better prepared when the time is right to make the decision that is right for you.