Last month I wrote a blog post highlighting many of the practical considerations in trying to negotiate a resolution of a divorce given the dramatic and significant impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The loss of jobs. The reduction of income. The decline in the value of assets. Even more important was the uncertainty of how long this situation would continue. I wrote that blog post during the peak of the crisis. As I write this blog post, things have stabilized somewhat. The curve was flattened and the rate of new infections have declined. SLOWLY some of the restrictions have been relaxed and some businesses are reopening and activities being allowed – with strict guidelines. Optimism remains tempered with trepidation over the extent to which things will return to some level of “normal”. However, most people seem resigned to the reality that things will not be returning to the way things were anytime soon, if at all. Confronted with this uncertainty, and the considerations raised in my earlier blog post, one might conclude now is not the right time to pursue a divorce. I submit this should not be the determiner of one’s decision.
There is no question that the decision to terminate one’s marriage is a major, life-altering one. It is not one to be made rashly, on the spur of the moment, or as an emotional reaction to a given situation. When I meet with a prospective client for the first time, I always inquire as to the reasons why they are considering divorce and the extent they have considered or pursued all reasonable efforts to save their marriage. Hopefully having weighed all these considerations carefully, the decision to divorce remains a highly personal one. It is a purely subjective one. Once counseled as to the legal consequences of that decision, it is one to be respected. One point of caution, however. The pandemic itself should not be the sole reason why someone decides to end the marriage. This situation is as “novel” as the virus itself. To one degree or the other, everyone has been impacted by it – stress, fear, uncertainty – be it emotional, health-wise, or financial. Parties to an otherwise solid marriage should be able to work together to overcome these consequences, or make every effort to do so. It is the marriage that is already on shaky ground that the pandemic and its impact can be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Once a spouse comes to the decision that the marriage is over and can no longer be saved, the question is whether now is the time to commence the divorce process. I submit that the decision to do so or not should be the same now as before the pandemic arrived.
First, once a decision has been made that a marriage is over, legal considerations as to timing aside, there is no real benefit not commencing the process to terminate that marriage. Some might suggest that moving forward at this juncture is insensitive. However, more likely than not, by the time this decision is made, both parties have reached the same conclusion, and no one is truly blindsided by it. Indeed, delaying this process will only serve to prolong the parties remaining in an unhealthy relationship, or worse, enduring what may be a toxic environment for themselves and/or their children. With no concrete answers of how long the impact of this pandemic will last, trying to wait until it is “over” before moving forward will more likely than not make matters worse as the stressors exacerbated by the pandemic boil over, and increasing the likelihood of it culminating into acts of domestic violence as cautioned in my colleague James P. Yudes, Esq.’s blog post at the outset of this pandemic. It would actually be insensitive to “kick the can down the road”.
There are no legal impediments to commencing the divorce process. While the courts have not handled in-person legal proceedings, they have remained open for business. Clerks continue to accept legal papers, and have expanded the ability for the electronic filing of same. Judges have handled proceedings by phone or virtually, as needed. However, moving forward to terminate a marriage does not necessarily require the commencement of legal proceedings. Indeed, many divorce matters are resolved before even doing so. Consulting with and retaining legal counsel, parties often endeavor to resolve the issues in their case, directly, with counsel, or through mediation. Even if those efforts prove unsuccessful, and legal proceedings become necessary, the parties have already focused on what the issues are and what needs to be done to address them.
What about the “practical considerations” discussed in my prior blog post? I submit that the complications and concerns in being able to negotiate a resolution of a divorce matter should not in and of themselves ever be a reason to delay moving forward with the divorce process itself. No question the divorce process may take more time as the economic and financial impacts of the pandemic play themselves out. Waiting six months or a year to start that process will not change this – just prolong and unhealthy marital situation. This may also be an opportunity for creative solutions or creative lawyering to formulate a resolution of these parties’ marital situations.
The attorneys at Yudes Family Law continue to be available to service the needs of our clients. If you are considering a divorce, we are ready to schedule a consultation by phone or virtually to discuss your options.