It is often said that in a divorce, timing is everything. The coronavirus pandemic, however, threw a wrench into even the most well-timed plans. Divorcing one’s spouse while there’s a raging pandemic may not seem particularly convenient, but for some couples, it’s the perfect time to split.
With courts operating in a limited capacity and statewide shelter-in-place orders still in effect, it’s become challenging to set one’s divorce in motion. Unless you’re Cardi B and her ex, Armie Hammer and his ex, or any of the fabulously wealthy celebrity couples who have entire legal teams on their payroll.
So, should ordinary couples in the Evergreen State wait for the pandemic to abate or seize the moment to separate? Here are a few things to consider.
SAFETY: Is it safe to divorce at this time?
Some couples who really want to end their marriage won’t let a little virus get in the way of their plans. The fact is, family law courts in some states are fully operational, while some divorce filing processes can be done online. Still, the question for many couples remains: should we file for a dissolution of marriage now?
The pandemic has upended the way the legal system operates. During the initial phase of the pandemic in March, the Washington state Supreme Court paused almost all cases in the state. Law offices have also adjusted operational hours, and many shifted to virtual consultations to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
However, family courts made some exemptions for urgent cases, such as those that involved domestic violence or physical abuse.
For example, actress/model Jaime King filed for divorce from her husband filmmaker Kyle Newman in June. Ms. King claimed that she had suffered from verbal and emotional abuse in the hands of Mr. Newman, so delaying the divorce and remaining in the marital home was out of the question.
The court ordered a "family centered case resolution conference" for their case, which means they must communicate by phone or in person to sort out finance and other matters. Further complicating the process was Ms. King’s prior request for a domestic violence restraining order against her ex-husband.
Needless to say, their divorce is not going to be smooth-sailing, pandemic or no. But it’s these sorts of divorce cases that are rightly deemed urgent and call for the necessary protective orders. So to answer the question "Is it safe to divorce during a pandemic?", it's not. The pandemic is still in full swing. But if your physical safety or mental health is in immediate danger because of your marriage, go for it.
FAMILY HOME: In or out?
Couples who are constantly fighting and happen to be sheltering in place together could easily reach a boiling point. This is not uncommon for many couples living together 24/7 and deal with kids, pay cuts, and even job losses. Couples in these scenarios tend to chat up their family law attorneys to ask about their options about the use of the family home, i.e., who should move out of the house.
Ex-couples like Mary-Kate Olsen and Olivier Sarkozy are familiar with this scenario. Unlike Ms. King’s case, Ms. Olsen’s divorce filing wasn’t deemed an emergency, and it didn’t help that she filed for divorce in the COVID-19-stricken state of New York.
That was unfortunate for the fashion designer/former actress as her ex essentially tried to throw her out of their home in the middle of such a situation. Despite her need to get out of the marital home, she had limited options.
Family courts may issue orders for one party to vacate the family home. Needless to say, in this pandemic, it will be very difficult for some people NOT to defy stay-at-home orders when a marital conflict gets especially heated. The saying “hell hath no fury like an ex scorned” still applies in these scenarios.
Related reading: Things we’ve learned about quarantine divorces
“What’s the first thing you’re going to do once the pandemic is over?”
If your answer to this question is to file for a dissolution of marriage, make sure to do your homework.
Quarantine divorce statistics may not be available for now — and particularly for Washington state — but one of the assumptions people easily make is that divorce cases will surge once courts become fully operational. Interestingly, an American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey in April 2020 revealed that demand for matrimonial lawyers decreased by 68%.
The bottom line is, whether you and your spouse choose to consciously uncouple during the pandemic, consider doing some research on highly pertinent matters, including your home’s valuation and mortgage, debts owed, insurance policies, and more.
“Should I call my lawyers?”
Yes, and do it now.
If you want to know the best way to proceed with your divorce, consult a family law attorney. More than ever, you need experienced, personal, and dedicated lawyers to guide you as you navigate divorce in these interesting times. Consult Washington family law attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams. Call us or leave us a message.