Divorce and Coronavirus: two things that nobody wants, yet so many of us now have to deal with in one way or another.
If you’re going through a divorce, or if you were thinking about divorce before the coronavirus turned our world upside down, one question is probably burning a hole in the backside of your brain.
Right now that question may not be the most important or all-consuming one you need to answer. It’s not nearly as immediate as trying to figure out how to work from home while entertaining your kids, or how to find a roll of toilet paper if you didn’t make it to the grocery store before the shelves were bare.
Yet it’s a question that keeps tugging at the corners of your consciousness, usually when you’re trying to fall asleep, or at 2:00 am when you can’t sleep. That’s when the question lights up your consciousness like a neon sign in Las Vegas.
“How will the coronavirus affect my divorce?”
Divorce Before Coronavirus
A few weeks ago, getting divorced was hard. It was complicated and emotional and messy. What made it really hard to deal with was that it was filled with uncertainty.
You had no way of knowing when you started your divorce how it would go. You had no idea where you would end up when it was over. In short, you were worried about whether you were going to be okay.
The same thing is true of the current coronavirus pandemic.
No one knows how this crisis is going to go. No one knows where we as individuals, as a society, or as a global community, will end up once it’s over. And all of us are worried about whether we’re going to be okay.
Add it all together, then throw in a crazy stock market and a possible economic melt-down, and what you end up with is an entire world where no one knows anything for sure anymore.
That’s stressful. What makes it even more stressful is that most human beings suck at dealing with uncertainty.
The Psychological Toll of Uncertainty
“Uncertainty” is an interesting phenomenon.
On the one hand, human beings NEED uncertainty. If everything in our lives was always predictable, we’d all be bored out of our minds!
At the same time, too much uncertainty, or uncertainty about things that are super important to us (like our survival!), can cause tremendous anxiety. That’s especially true for those people who had a tendency to be anxious to begin with.
When faced with too much uncertainty human beings generally do one of two things: approach or avoid. Either they search for information that will make the uncertain certain, or they just avoid thinking about the uncertainty altogether.
The classic example of how this plays out is with a cheating spouse.
When some people suspect their spouse is cheating, they go into full-on Sherlock Holmes mode. They hire a private investigator. They stalk their spouse’s social media accounts and try to hack into their phone. These people do everything they can to find out for sure whether their spouse has been cheating on them or not.
That’s the approach technique.
Avoiders do the opposite. They just close their eyes and ears to every bit of evidence that their spouse is or may be having an affair. They don’t want to know the truth. Above all, they don’t want to have to deal with it.
Unfortunately, neither approach nor avoidance will work particularly well in our present circumstances.
Approach, Avoid or …?
The problem with the coronavirus outbreak is that this is a totally new thing. How this is going to go and how we’re all going to end up is just one big question mark. There’s no way to get full information because right now it doesn’t exist.
So, the approach technique simply won’t work.
Avoidance, on the other hand, never works. (Or maybe it always works, depending on how you look at it!) Closing your eyes to reality may keep your anxiety levels in check, but it keeps you stuck and usually causes you way more pain in the end.
So, what’s left? It’s the one approach most humans hate the most: learning to live with uncertainty.
How Will the Coronavirus Affect Your Divorce?
The short answer to the question of how the coronavirus will affect your divorce is: no one knows. We’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.
But, that having been said, based upon what’s been happening so far, we can predict that certain things are more likely to happen than not.
Here’s what you can probably expect:
1. Your divorce will be delayed.
Court systems across the country have been closed. Since only a judge can divorce you, that means that in those places you simply won’t be able to get a divorce right now. Period.
Even if you live in an area where the courts are still open, it’s likely that the courts will be slower than usual because many judges and lawyers will be taking time off. (Remember, the coronavirus hits older people the hardest. Most judges [with all due respect] are older. Presumably, many of them will stay home.)
2. All your financial documents will need to be updated.
The stock market just took a gigantic turn for the worse. Many businesses have been closed, and many people are out of work. What that means is that it’s likely that a lot of your financial information will now have changed.
Because of that change, you (and your spouse) will probably need to update all the financial documents in your divorce. (That’s yet another reason why your divorce will probably be delayed. Getting your current information and re-doing your financial forms will take time.) What’s worse is that any business evaluation or real estate appraisal that you did before this crisis may also have to be re-done as well.
3. Any settlement proposal you negotiated will probably have to be re-negotiated.
If you and your spouse had already negotiated a deal in your divorce, or were close to negotiating a deal in your divorce, that deal may now no longer work.
If you or your spouse are now unemployed, whatever you were going to pay/receive in support may be different than it was before. If your assets are worth more or less than they were before this crisis, you and your spouse may have to re-negotiate your property division. Finally, if you are further in debt because of this crisis, you’re also going to have to negotiate the way those debts get paid.
How Can You Deal with Your Divorce During the Coronavirus?
As uncomfortable and dissatisfying as it may be, the only realistic way to deal with your divorce during the coronavirus is to be patient. You have to learn to live with the uncertainty that both of those life events bring until the current crisis resolves itself.
But, being patient doesn’t mean you are powerless. It also doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do to work on your divorce while you’re stuck at home for the next ___ weeks.
Here are some things that you can focus on during this crisis that will put you in a better position to act appropriately once it’s over:
1. Assess Your Own Situation.
The actions that you take/don’t take right now will depend in large part upon the situation that you’re currently in.
If you’ve already filed for divorce, and you’re now stuck at home 24/7 with your spouse for the indefinite future, keeping the peace should be your #1 priority. Trying to do any other work on your divorce right now will probably be way too intense.
On the other hand, if you’re NOT living with your spouse, you may be able to make progress in your divorce by working on some of the items below.
2. Mediate Your Parenting Plan.
Regardless of whether the courts are closed or not, you can still mediate the open issues in your divorce.
Many mediators today will work virtually. Many divorce lawyers are working virtually now too. Even if you haven’t been mediating your divorce up to this point, now may be the time when you want to talk to your lawyer about getting mediation started.
One thing to remember, though, is that, given the uncertainty of everyone’s post-coronavirus economic situation, mediating a financial settlement right now might not make sense. But you still could mediate the terms of your parenting plan.
3. Keep Your Financial Documents Organized.
Since you know that you’re going to have to update your financial documents after this crisis is over (and you’ve likely got a lot of extra time on your hands!) now is the time to get your financial house in order.
Keep track of the financial documents that come in every month. Keep them organized so that, when the time comes, it will be easy for you to update your financial information with the court.
You will also want to stay on top of your income tax returns. Make sure to get your tax documents prepared and filed on time. That, too, will help when you update your divorce financial documents later.
4. Do Your Best to Keep the Peace.
Living and working together is stressful for even the strongest couples. When your marriage is already on the rocks, or you’re in the process of a divorce, AND you’re living and working together, your stress level can escalate quickly. That makes conflict much more likely. Increased conflict can make your already stressful living situation unbearable.
Step number one in preventing things from getting too crazy at home is to consciously decide you’re going to play nice and keep the peace. It may sound silly, but just making that decision will remind you to bite your tongue and walk away when you’re tempted to lash out.
Step number two is to set boundaries. Carve out a physical space where you can get your work done. Set the rules surrounding the times when you’re “at work” and no one can bother you. Respect the rules surrounding your spouse’s “at work” time too.
5. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself, Too!
Being stuck in close quarters 24/7 with your spouse while you are contemplating or navigating a divorce is one of the most stressful things imaginable. Trying not to “rock the boat” while you both have to live in it is likely to be incredibly challenging.
The more you take care of yourself, the more personal bandwidth you will have available to deal with those challenges.
What does taking care of yourself mean? Maybe you get outside and take a walk alone. Make sure you eat right and get some exercise every day. Stay connected with friends and family. Find a virtual support group. Do whatever it takes to fill your own tank so that you have the fuel to deal with your spouse and your kids in these trying times.
Divorce and Coronavirus
Like it or not, we’re living through a time of tremendous uncertainty. No matter how much we may dislike that uncertainty, we can’t run from it.
Uncertainty is everywhere today.
The best we can do then is to learn to make our peace with uncertainty. We must learn to live with it, and to do what we have to do, what we need to do, to get through this crisis with dignity and grace.
As the late Gilda Radner said:
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
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