1. Hire a divorce attorney or a divorce mediator
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You would have done this before the pandemic, and you should do this now.
“Divorce is still divorce, even in a pandemic. Hearings are happening remotely via Webex and other means, but they are still happening,” says Carolyn Grimes, a partner at Wade Grimes Friedman Meinken & Leischner PLLC, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.
In other words, you will go through everything any divorced couple goes through. You’ll just be doing everything in person from a safe distance or from the safety of your own home on your computer or phone.
Other than that, divorce during the pandemic is still expensive. It’s also still stressful. None of that has changed.
As for the expense, the average cost of a divorce is $12,900. Just keep in mind (if you’re panicking at that number) that the cost of a divorce depends on how much money you and your partner have and where you live. If neither of you has much money, and especially if you’re both reasonable about the divorce and try to avoid court, there’s a good chance that you won’t spend anywhere near $12,900 on expenses like divorce attorneys and mediators.
2. Plan for the divorce process to take longer than it should
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Getting a divorce before the pandemic was often a slow process, where it might take weeks, months or years, depending on how things went.
And now? It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that the divorce process can drag out longer than ever with COVID-19 in full swing. Be sure to keep that in mind as you budget for your life after your divorce.
Many delays are happening due to a backlog of court cases, which was an issue before the pandemic. However, with the virus shutting courtrooms down and pushing hearings online, things are even slower than usual. But there are also new issues that have dragged the process out.
For instance, Grimes says, “for those states where the children are at home and remote learning, there are practical problems of parents needing to supervise the schooling and work, which is often more difficult, if not impossible, if one parent moves out.”
According to Stephen Cawelti, a divorce attorney in Los Angeles, when it comes to fixing marital issues in divorce court, what used to take days or weeks can now take months.
Plan your finances accordingly, which starts with assuming everything will take longer than it typically might. If you rent an apartment to live in while you work out the answers to questions about who will keep your house, expect to rent that apartment for longer than you initially expected.
3. Factor the pandemic into how much child support or alimony you will pay or receive
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For the most part, the pandemic hasn’t changed much when it comes to splitting up a divorced couple’s assets unless COVID-19 has affected those assets.
“Our laws remain the same and are being applied as they were in pre-pandemic times,” says Matthew Barach, a family law attorney and founder of Barach Law Group, a family law firm in Framingham, Massachusetts.
That said, thanks to the pandemic, you may have fewer assets to split. You or your ex may be unemployed and without a job, which can affect the amount of alimony and child support you receive or pay. None of this is to say you shouldn’t divorce, especially if your marriage is in an untenable situation. But there’s no question that the pandemic has made divorce even more financially challenging for some couples.
Perhaps you and your soon-to-be-ex jointly own a business. The pandemic may have complicated that, too.
“The pandemic does create certain issues for businesses that are adversely affected by the pandemic. These include restaurants, bars and certain retail-type establishments,” Barach says. “This has created complex questions for family law practitioners. A question for those types of assets is, ‘How do we value them in the face of the pandemic?’ We are using creative means to come up with creative solutions to address the issues that COVID-19 presents.”
As with many aspects of COVID-19, how things go with your finances may rely on luck as much as anything. You may even find that the pandemic makes some financial elements of your divorce easier. For instance, Grimes says that with interest rates so low, it may be easier to obtain refinancing loans to buy out a spouse’s half of your house.
“On the other hand, low interest rates tend to drive up house values, especially in areas with more stable employment such as the D.C. area, so the buyouts are bigger,” Grimes says.
4. Think about how your expenses are going to change
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You’re divorcing, and you may be so exhausted by the idea that you may not be thinking about how your finances are going to change. But your finances will change. Life is about to get far more expensive. Instead of sharing expenses, you’re on your own now.
For example, divorced people pay more money for car insurance than those who are married. If you’re part of a married couple, insurers see you as more financially stable. Speaking of which, if you were sharing a vehicle with your spouse, you may need to now apply for an auto loan and buy a car.
If you were on your spouse’s health insurance plan, you might need to get a new policy of your own. You’ll now be paying for your own utilities, your own cell phone plan, rent, food, entertainment and so on. It’s just how divorce is for both parties. If you’re able to, you want to plan for all of that before you strike out on your own.
You’ll also want to start an emergency fund if you haven’t done so already. Juggling bills while paying for a divorce attorney gets complicated pretty quickly. But if you know that you have a decent amount of money stashed away, you won’t be as stressed out by any changes to your cash flow.
5. Recognize that child visitation among parents is going to be more complex due to the pandemic
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As you know, everybody in the world has been encouraged to limit personal interactions to their own households to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Some families have created bubbles where they get together with one or two other households, but for the most part, large gatherings are a thing of the past.
Of all the ways the pandemic has changed divorce, it’s arguably made child visitation more complicated than anything else.
Assuming you’re taking COVID-19 seriously, whether you’re married or divorced, you want to keep who you and your kids interact with to a minimum. What happens when you split up with your partner, who goes off to live in another house or apartment? Do your children stay with only you and just see your ex when the pandemic dangers subside? Do your kids stay with your ex, and you can be the one to hug your kids through a Zoom call?
Or do you all hope for the best and have your kids shuttle between each parent’s home? That strategy gets more stressful for some divorcing couples.
“Some parents have legitimate fears that their children will be exposed to the virus from the other parent, especially if the other parent is a nurse, firefighter or first responder. When parents live a substantial distance away, traveling to the other parent can also involve risk. These are legitimate concerns,” Cawelti says.
It also gets nerve-wracking if your partner moves in with a boyfriend or girlfriend who has their own kids. Do your kids spend the night, interact with them, potentially get the virus and bring it back to you?
Across America, divorcing parents are making those types of calculations.
Still, if you’re fearful that you won’t get to see your kids because your spouse will use the pandemic as a way to separate you from your children, you can probably rest easy.
Barach says that in most cases, parents develop a general agreement that allows both of them to see their kids a reasonably equitable amount, and the court should only come in as a last resort.
But if it goes that far, Barach says, “the court’s general goal has been to enable children to maintain relationships with both sets of parents and to provide consistency of parenting with as little disruption to children’s lives as possible during the pandemic.”
Grimes says she hopes parents don’t unnecessarily try to block another parent’s visit, claiming COVID-19 fears. Divorcing during a pandemic is hard enough; couples don’t need to make it even harder. “Parents need to be reasonable with each other and work together. The children still want to see each parent,” Grimes says. “Just be smart and be careful.”
Geoff Williams often contributes to MoneyGeek.