Everywhere you turn, headlines read “Divorce Rate Skyrockets Amid Coronavirus Pandemic.” Same story, same anecdotal evidence from divorce lawyers. The truth is the more people spend time together in quarantine, the more their preexisting relationship issues are amplified. If they were struggling before COVID-19, their problems didn’t magically disappear during quarantine — instead, they led to a breaking point. Makes sense. Approximately 70% of divorces are filed by women and only after their marriage was on the rocks for years. While Coronavirus itself isn’t causing divorce, perhaps it’s just speeding up the path to Splitsville so they don’t have to spent the next half-decade in toxic hell.
But what is actually happening right now when it comes to divorce. We heard the horror stories early on:
- Many courthouses ceased operations for days, weeks, and/or months
- Majority of courts remain closed to the public
- While many courts have implemented online hearings, furloughed employees and an otherwise reduced workforce has radically delayed hearings on divorce-related issues
- Some courts continue to operate on a limited basis and/or are overwhelmed by the increase in motions to change child support, alimony, or parenting orders in light of the havoc the virus has had on our economy, educational system, and well — our mental health.
Reading through all of these points likely led you to the conclusion: Divorce is impossible right now. Right?
For (ex) couples that are willing to work together to stay out court, they are completing their divorce in record time — affording them the opportunity to begin the healing process much earlier and move on with their lives.
Prior to Covid-19, you had to jump through a ton of procedural hoops just to get your divorce going. Each and every obstacle brought with it the possibility of conflict. And with conflict comes expense and delay. Temporary changes to existing laws as a result of social distancing guidelines have suspended many of these unnecessary roadblocks. Take Bella M. for example: On unemployment after the restaurant she bartended at closed down, she wanted to divorce on a budget. She chose DIY Divorce so she would have access to our all-in-one web application, the Divorce Navigator, to complete her paperwork and follow the interactive checklist to handle the procedural stuff on her own. With (new) Covid guidelines in place, she got to skip the stuff that would have ordinarily prevented her from moving her divorce forward:
My local courthouse is now allowing forms to be e-filed which wasn’t an option before. Instead of having to borrow a friends car to drive 50 miles to the county courthouse, I filed everything online. Allowing e-signatures instead of “originals” meant my ex and I could finish up everything without having to meet up in person.
Bella’s divorce was in a California county but Colorado consumers report similar stories — “there’s no way I could have gotten my ex to a notary to sign a waiver of service — but my court suspended that requirement so all he had to do was e-sign for the divorce petition and we were good to proceed. I thought it would take months to get a final hearing but our settlement agreement was approved without having to go to the courthouse.”
Not everyone can settle their disputes on their own. But even spouses that have needed some extra help along the way have been able to keep the divorce process going. In Alameda County (SF Bay Area) there is a judge who is conducting online and informal settlement conferences to help parties resolve their differences. And despite the law being historically behind the tech times, many private mediators have stepped up their game, offering online mediation instead of a trip to a downtown office building. Another one of our clients reported “honestly, I felt much more comfortable talking about hard stuff while being in my own living room. Just having my own coffee in my own mug and my dog next to me on the couch totally helped me keep my cool throughout negotiations.”
There is no doubt that Coronavirus has upended our lives and has caused major filing delays. And for those litigating their divorce, there’s a whole host of challenges that go far beyond scheduling delays. But, if there’s one ‘positive,’ in this situation, (ex) couples that are consciously uncoupling can really get divorced from their couch and within a reasonable time — usually before (or right around) when the mandatory divorce state waiting period (when applicable) lapses. Silver lining?