Separation and divorce are already stressful ordeals; attending to these matters during a pandemic makes the entire situation more overwhelming. With daily routines disrupted, stock markets fluctuating and jobs and income lost, it may seem impossible to move forward with the separation.
How can you start the divorce process when the future remains uncertain?
There may be changes in the divorce process, but they are attainable as the legal industry adapts to a ‘new normal’. Courts are changing their filing process, as well as the handling of court-ordered mediations. Attorneys in Townsville and other areas are also holding their meetings virtually through video conferencing platforms.
Although these are uncertain times, focus on what you can control: learn more about your options; assemble your team of professionals; create a budget; negotiate logistics and discuss a parenting plan.
Know Your Options
Your choice of process depends on the communication status between you and your spouse, as well as the complexity of your situation.
Consider one of the following legal options:
- A mutually-agreed upon third party guides both parties to settle. All cases are unique; some cases may or may not include a lawyer to guide the ex-spouses through the review and processing of the divorce.
- Pro Se. Both parties agree to settle and file the paperwork by themselves. Pro Se works for low-conflict divorce cases.
- Collaborative process. Each spouse works with a team of attorneys, a counsellor, a financial ‘neutral’ and a child specialist. The lawyers agree not to litigate – even if settling is impossible.
- A judge makes the final decision on issues that the couple cannot agree upon.
- Attorney-to-attorney. The lawyers work between themselves to create a settlement for both parties. This is ideal for high-conflict divorces.
Determine which process suits you by learning more online or through phone consultations or video call with your attorney. Search for local mediation organisations to find a divorce mediator if needed.
Assemble Your Team of Professionals
In most divorce cases, each party should work with an experienced family law attorney. The lawyer’s involvement can be limited to regular consultations if you choose to mediate or if expenses are an issue. Also, you want to be comfortable with your lawyer, so spend time talking with them to learn more about their strategy, understand their approach and see if they resonate with your struggles.
Once you have an attorney, complete the rest of your team. Work with a financial professional who specialises in divorce for assistance with finance-related decisions. A life coach can also help you with the behavioural and emotional aspects of divorce and a child specialist can help your kids process their situation.
Finalise Your Budget
Another important step is creating a budget to understand the amount of money needed to cover discretionary and essential living expenses. Take time to check account transactions and review recent credit card bills to understand your current expenses. You’ll need this information to determine the income you will need after the divorce, as well as get an estimate of the spousal and child support amounts (in case these will be part of your agreement).
During this time of uncertainty, you and your ex-spouse must decide if you are comfortable starting the divorce process via phone meetings or video conferences. Privacy issues while navigating the separation (especially if you have children) may arise since everyone is at home.
Also, internet connections may pose a problem and result in interrupted video or phone calls. If you decide to postpone the divorce, however, consider the trade-offs.
Once restrictions are lifted and in-person meetings are allowable, decide if you are comfortable participating in face-to-face meetings or would rather stick with video calls. Video conferencing applications, such as Zoom, have ‘break-out’ room features, which allow private consultations during an online discussion.
Discuss a Parenting Plan
Coming up with a parenting plan is one of the most tedious parts of the divorce. The COVID-19 pandemic requires parents to carefully consider living and travel arrangements for the kids. If you and your ex-spouse are already living separately, discuss a parenting plan and remember the logistics between travelling and sharing homeschooling duties. Determine which parent gets the children on which days and how you can ensure their safety during travel time.
The ‘new normal’ may be part of society for a while. If you decide to proceed with your divorce, expect a few adjustments in the process. Fortunately, the right team can help you get through the upheaval and uncertainty, as well as guide you towards moving on to better times.