Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus

Faith Miller Managing Partner at Miller Zeiderman LLP, authors the latest article for her blog. Read the full article below.

Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus

Lockdown stress has spurred a surge in the demand for divorce—a 50% increase in inquiries, according to many New York City and Westchester County matrimonial or divorce and family law attorneys. In our offices, we’ve seen a marked increase in consultations and new clients since the stay-at-home order was implemented.

“When people live in acute stress, either the cracks in their relationship will be amplified or the light that shines through the cracks will be amplified. You get an amplification of the best and of the worst,” says Esther Perel, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Mating in Captivity and creator of the new podcast series Couples Under Lockdown.

For much of March, April, and May, New York courts were closed to new cases (except for emergencies and cases of domestic abuse). During this time, many severely stressed couples made the decision to divorce, which led to an enormous increase in calls from people in search of an attorney to represent them.

If you were on the brink of separation or divorce pre-coronavirus, the lockdown may well have exposed those “final straws” in your relationship, too.

Here are some common issues facing couples who are stressed from sheltering together, according to divorce-prediction research by John Gottman, Ph.D., co-founder of the Seattle-based Gottman Institute; observations of Dr. Perel; and other psychologists who study marriage and divorce:

·      major financial setbacks, including job loss.

·      poor conflict resolution skills—heightened due to lack of social outlets. Does your spouse express more criticism, defensiveness, or contempt than usual? Do patterns of conflict seem impossible to escape, in every sense?

·      an affair that continues or strengthens during the pandemic—and might even include seeing the lover despite distancing orders.

·      different perspectives on caring for your children—including following COVID-19 protocols.

·      trivial grievances, deep gender inequity, or who-has-it-worse mentality overwhelming your relationship. Strong couples often rise above stress. Reorganizing priorities is one way they do this.  

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone if pandemic-fueled stressors are plaguing your marriage to the point of divorce. If you’re contemplating or readying yourself for divorce, here are 6 steps you can take to help you prepare:

1.   Consider the impact on finances. The filing date can have an impact on the value of your assets and therefore property division. This can affect your support and ultimate settlement. Conditional impact on current finances and future prospects must be considered

2.   Gather financial documents including:

·      3 years of tax returns

·      1 year of credit card statements

·      1 year of statements for the account(s) from which all expenses are paid

·      a current statement for all of your assets and liabilities – all bank, investment, retirement accounts and the like & loan statements

·      if there is a separate property claim (assets before your marriage, inheritances, etc.), you should begin the process of gathering documents to support your claim

3.   Be vigilant of your behaviors while your spouse views you “under the microscope” at home – avoid alcohol, don’t allow yourself to be baited into losing your temper, and avoid conflict as much as possible.

4.   Draft a narrative outlining child custody concerns if you anticipate custody will be contested.

5.   Contact an attorney if you have concerns about alcohol or substance abuse. You can get a testing regimen in place and if there is abuse or neglect or domestic violence your attorney can seek immediate relief from the Court – even without a divorce action.

6.   Consult a qualified attorney to learn your rights and responsibilities during the process. Our firm has a draft stipulation that obligates all parties to adhere to all current and future guidelines regarding the coronavirus. This important document clarifies what should be done in various scenarios, including if a party or close family relative tests positive for the virus.

The unfortunate reality is, when the relationship is unsalvageable, you need a trustworthy professional attorney on your side to help you navigate through the various stages of the divorce process.