Let me start with a direct answer to your question, “can we get divorced during Covid-19?” Yes, you can absolutely start the divorce process in the middle of a pandemic.
However, the next question is a lot more complicated. This is the question of how clients decide to proceed with their divorce. This decision will significantly impact whether they are actually able to functionally move forward with their divorce or will be stuck in an overwhelmed, underfunded court system that is scrambling to figure out how to address the public’s needs during a pandemic.
Will the courts let you get divorced during COVID-19?
For those of you that don’t have much interaction with the Family Law Courts (count yourselves blessed if this is the case) you may not be aware that the courts were effectively shut down from mid-March through mid-June (and have started restricting the number of cases they see again since mid-November). Some of the courts have now started to get back to work by using videoconferencing, but even that is coming in fits and spurts. Trying to update a massive, technologically unsophisticated bureaucracy is not something that happens overnight. When you combine this with the fact that the Family Law Courts have a massive backlog of critical cases that they need to address – adoption and dependency issues, child abuse issues, restraining orders, etc. – my understanding from many of my attorney colleagues is that a ‘typical’ litigated divorce probably won’t even get started until later in 2021.
This means that people who decide to go to court probably won’t be able to functionally get started with a divorce for another several months (or longer depending on when we can get our local COVID numbers under control). Which means that they will be stuck in limbo and will be unable to move forward with decisions regarding their short-term finances, a parenting schedule for their children or even whether it’s a good idea for them to move out before they come to some conclusions regarding these critical issues.
How mediation can help you get divorced during COVID-19?
This is why even more clients than normal are deciding to use divorce mediation to address all the issues necessary to get divorced. I’ve had a landslide of new clients since things started opening up in June (July was my busiest month in 18 years as a divorce mediator). And because divorce mediation is about parties working together to come to practical decisions, we are able to move forward quickly while also coming up with creative solutions that address many COVID issues that parents haven’t had to address previously.
Divorce mediation is an extremely flexible, client-centered process so we can tailor what we address to the specific needs of each individual client. For example, I’ve been helping my clients jointly address the COVID precautions they will be taking now that the children will be residing in two households. We discuss what each parent is doing to keep the children safe and address any discrepancies between what each parent believes is appropriate for the children. This way we’re dealing with real-world issues that are impacting both the parents and the children during these difficult times. Even if clients were able to go to court at this point, the courts generally don’t address these types of proactive, real world issues.
What is the best way to get divorced during COVID-19?
The bottom line is that the vast majority of clients that recently started mediation will finalize their divorce before the court-based clients even get started. For example, I have some clients that started with me in May and by mid-July had already come to all the necessary agreements regarding their house, the husband’s business, long-term retirement plans such as 401(k)s & pensions and come up with a detailed, comprehensive Long-term Parenting Plan for their children. When you consider that even pre-COVID a litigated divorce typically takes 2–3 years and costs approximately $150,000 in attorney and forensic accounting fees, you can see the significant difference in time, cost, stress and damage to the children between a mediated divorce and a litigated divorce – all of which adds up to everyone being able to move on with their lives more quickly and in a more constructive manner!
For more information on different ways to go about getting divorced please see my YouTube video entitled “Understanding the Divorce Process.”