Step One: Consult an Attorney
You may find yourself considering divorce for the first time as a result of the pandemic and associated lockdown orders. You’ve spent more time with your spouse than ever before, and you might have discovered that you simply can’t wait to move forward on divorce proceedings. Getting divorced in the midst of a pandemic, however, can present some unique challenges.
Legal offices are considered essential services. While many courthouses are shut down and may not be processing cases normally, you can often still file for divorce and start appropriate proceedings. Before moving forward, however, consult an experienced divorce attorney. An attorney can:
Provide you with the latest information about courthouse closures or recommendations. When are courthouses expected to open back up? If your courthouse is open and still processing cases, how should you proceed? Are there any special recommendations that you’ll need to follow during this time? An attorney can provide you with critical information about the process and how it’s changed as a result of the coronavirus.
Help protect your rights. An attorney can advise you about how to proceed in order to protect your finances, your property, and your rights as much as possible, both in the case of a general divorce case and as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic.
Help with negotiations with your spouse. You may need to give a little ground on some of the things you want, while others are more important. An attorney can help provide a neutral perspective throughout those negotiations–and keep the right elements at the forefront.
Give you a better understanding of your options. What options are available to you in the midst of a pandemic? An alternative dispute resolution, for example, can help streamline the process and prevent your divorce from getting slowed down by potential backlogs in the court system.
Step Two: Create an Immediate Plan
Some couples choose to continue to live together until the divorce is final. In light of the current pandemic, you may no longer be able to handle living with your spouse. If you’re in an abusive relationship, you may need to get out immediately. Create an immediate plan of action that will help you manage the rest of the pandemic as well as preparing you for life moving forward.
Decide who will remain in the home and who will leave. If you want to ask for the property in the divorce, you may want to stay in the home to make that transition easier. On the other hand, if you’ll need to sell the property following the pandemic, you may want to consider finding a new residence. If you will leave, consider where you will go. Looking for a new residence during a pandemic can prove more difficult, especially if you have income-related challenges. Make sure that you’re prepared for the search for a residence.
Create a plan for child custody as the pandemic continues. COVID-19 has shut down school systems across the country, and Minnesota schools are unlikely to reopen for the rest of the year. This situation creates a unique challenge for parents–and it’s even more difficult for newly-single parents who may struggle with childcare due to pandemic restrictions and inability to send the kids to school. Work with your spouse to create an effective arrangement for child custody and childcare that reflects the needs of your children, even if it doesn’t fit your personal preferences. For example, your children may prefer spending time with your out-of-work spouse during the day to going to a babysitter or a childcare facility–and it may prove safer for them, helping to reduce their potential exposure to coronavirus. You may need to create an emergency child custody plan that will be very different from the plan you’ll create once schools reopen and things settle back to normal–and your divorce agreement may need to include that information.
Think through potential financial challenges related to the pandemic. Many people are out of work as a result of the pandemic: some laid off as the virus continues to shut down operations throughout the state, others unable to return to work until their businesses reopen. Even as plans emerge to help reopen many businesses, you should still have a plan in place that allows you to deal with potential financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. Think through your spouse’s income as well as yours: child support and alimony, for example, may be based on your spouse’s current income, and if your spouse has been laid off, that may change the amount you can receive–or the amount you have to pay. Consult your attorney to learn more about the adaptations you may need to make to your divorce plans in order to protect your financial future.
Separate your finances from your spouse’s. Regardless of pandemic-related challenges, you need to separate your finances from your spouse’s as soon as possible. Create a plan for handling joint debt and joint property. Consider what property each of you wants to keep and how it pertains to your divorce. Open your own bank accounts and close joint credit cards or take one spouse’s name off of the card. Thanks to coronavirus, you may need to take out loans or defer payments to help aid you through this crisis; however, you should avoid making joint financial decisions or taking out new loans with your spouse during this time.
Step Three: Prepare for Delays
As you move forward with your divorce in the midst of a pandemic, you may need to prepare for delays. In Minnesota, it can take between 30 and 90 days for your divorce to be finalized once you file the paperwork through the court system. Coronavirus delays, however, can extend that time.
That means that legally, you and your spouse will still be married; however, it does not mean that you cannot make plans to move forward with your life. Prepare for those delays. Discuss your expectations with your attorney ahead of time–including how those delays may impact your divorce. You can still move out of the house and separate your finances from your spouse’s as you wait for the divorce to be final. This delay may, however, prevent you from getting married to someone else until your divorce is finalized.
Are you planning for divorce in the midst of the pandemic? We can help. Contact us today to learn more about how the pandemic has the potential to impact your divorce.
Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individualsituation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.