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Should I Initiate Divorce During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Written by Diana N. Fredericks, Esq.

If you were thinking about getting a divorce before March 2020, you may have felt that the time was “right.”  The economy was seemingly doing well, unemployment was low, stocks were high, you made it through the holidays; it may have.  Then the coronavirus (COVID-19) arrived.

This article considers whether the whirlwind of the last six weeks and the unknowns for the foreseeable future should impact if and how you decide to go forward.  Is now the time to commence divorce proceedings?  Does an uncertain economy coupled with a national pandemic influence these decisions, and should it?

If you or your spouse are currently unemployed, that may impact your willingness and ability to not only afford to retain a divorce attorney, but also to pay or receive alimony or child support. While unemployment is usually considered a temporary change of circumstances and therefore insufficient to warrant a modification of support, in the current climate, this may be viewed through a different lens.  If you believe that you or your spouse would be entitled to alimony, this may be a time to hold off on the divorce process as the ability to pay (and support two households) may be impossible. 

There may also be other repercussions, such as declining business values for those who are self-employed, and the inability to conduct necessary business such as obtaining a real estate appraisal or buying/selling a home in the current climate. 

There are practical but nonlegal issues that also need to be considered, particularly while we are under a “Stay at Home” order and are forcibly quarantined without the ability for space, privacy, and so on.

Despite the impracticalities and possible negative repercussions of filing for divorce now, it may be necessary due to your particular circumstances.  Before you decide, schedule a consultation with a qualified divorce attorney to understand your rights and particularly whether these temporary circumstances should influence a decision to move forward and how/when. 

Because things are currently moving very slowly in the court system, filing a complaint may be appropriate to effectuate a cutoff date for equitable distribution and also to start your proceedings, knowing that the typical timeline may be extended.  Another way to look at this is that if you file now, until things return to “normal” you may only be initiating your place in the system.  This will start your wait, which could be another three, six, or twelve months from now.  Even before COVID-19, one thing I’ve heard many clients say after the fact is that they wish they had started sooner due to the length of time required to complete the process.

I have often heard clients remark that they do not want to go forward with their divorce during a “bad market.”  Is that a justifiable reason and are there legal consequences to going forward (or not)?  A decline in the market may affect your liquidity or limit creativity in the realm of equitable distribution.  A decline may also mean there is less to equitably distribute because 401(k)s have fallen, but is that reason enough to delay a divorce?   

The proverbial other shoe may drop at any time. We have little control over a lot right now, but if you have been contemplating a divorce and are worried that now is not the time, have a consultation with an experienced attorney and understand the process, your rights, and so on before you make that decision.  There are many pieces to this complex puzzle.  There is no one size fits all approach, but rather your individual facts and circumstances need to be understood and considered to determine the best approach for you and your family. 

Diana Fredericks, Esq.

 

Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters.  She is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015.  Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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