The ripple effect of coronavirus has infected everything, and divorcing individuals are not immune. Here are six areas your friends or family need to re-assess if they are going through a divorce along with how you can help.
1. The Divorce Itself
Divorce is a lawsuit and is dependent on the court system. Courts across the country are shutting down to ensure the health and safety of all the people they touch. And while some courts have already started utilizing technology to allow documents to be e-filed and video conferences with judges, it won’t be business-as-usual for some time.
What To Do: Recommend they consult their attorney about how the rules affecting their jurisdiction impact their case and fees, whether their timeline has changed significantly, and what delays might mean for their post-divorce life.
2. Their Finances
A significant part of divorce hinges on dividing assets, which may be tied up in investment accounts or business interests that have substantially declined in value. If you have a loved one with increased debt because of this crisis, they are going to have to negotiate how those debts get allocated and paid.
What To Do: Suggest they check their credit report and calculate how much cash they need for an extended downturn. Help them investigate the benefits afforded by the CARES Act which allows for loans for small businesses, penalty-free withdrawals from retirement accounts, and other benefits that will soften the blow from the crisis. BDF can help.
3. Their Job and Paying the Bills
While it’s impossible to forecast how long the recession will be, every downturn ends up with lost jobs, less money for many who are employed, and the risk of future layoffs. Either spouse losing their job or experiencing a dramatic change to their income will change temporary support payments and complicate negotiations.
What To Do: Encourage them to work together with their spouse to maximize the family’s combined household income while minimizing their legal fees.
4. Their Plans for the House
Are they planning to sell their house as part of the divorce? With the housing market in a temporary freeze, it is much harder to predict what the near and long-term impacts will be on home prices.
What To Do: Be a sounding board as they rethink their entire decision in this new reality. If they decide to keep the house, suggest they try to refinance at a lower rate. If they decide to sell, help them find an experienced realtor and brainstorm creative ideas for virtual tours and how to keep everyone safe if they allow in-person showings.
5. Their Kids
If they have an established co-parenting arrangement, they should continue to follow it but are likely grappling with unforeseen changes upending schedules and routines. If you are a grandparent and have legal time with the kids, your visitation should not change.
What To Do: Help with childcare when appropriate and encourage them to be intentional about what memories they want to create for their kids. Remind them to put their kids’ and their own well-being at a higher priority than focusing on their stress and anger about their spouse. If their spouse won’t cooperate, recommend they get clarification from their attorney on how new regulations impact their arrangement.
6. Their Safety and Health
Are both spouses on the same page regarding social distancing and staying home? While it’s common to have separate rules for each parent’s house on some issues, safety during the pandemic is key.
What To Do: If you have time with the kids, make sure you honor the parent’s wishes. Encourage everyone to get some physical activity every day and create fun ways to interact with the children by having a pillow fight or a race. Encourage your loved one to use this time to create a healthy habit of self-care.
Control What Is Possible and Prepare for the Rest
On the list of things that can upend the best-laid plans, the coronavirus must rank at the very top. Empathize with the impact of the virus on your friend or family member’s divorce timeline and bill. While not life-threatening, it likely took the already high divorce stress to a whole new level of uncertainty and angst. Our Divorce Practice Group’s ClearPath℠ Roadmap shows how to navigate divorce with less cost and complexity. Email TheNextChapter@bdfllc.com for a copy for those you care about.