Planning a Divorce During a Pandemic
Emotions involved during a divorce can be compared to those of a person experiencing death, and for some, the emotions can be very intense. It’s even more difficult now that we are all basically quarantined in our own homes due to COVID-19. Deciding to divorce and getting a hold of your own emotions about it is only the first step. The courts view divorce as a business transaction, and it’s usually in your best interest to do the same, even if this is easier said than done.
Next, particularly if you expect your partner to put up a fight, it could be favorable for you to first develop your own exit strategy. And, It could aide in assisting you to cope with your own emotions surrounding your decision. Here are some suggestions to build your exit strategy:
Tend to Your Basic Needs
Before you draw a line in the sand to leave, you need to make sure that you can survive on your own:
If you are earning an income that goes into a shared account, consider depositing some of that ahead of time into a new account in your name only. In many states, this money is still considered marital property, but this strategy makes it more difficult for your spouse to cut off your access to funds, unfortunately as some spouses do. This may also be a time to consider ways that you can increase your income so that you will have more financial flexibility. Think outside the box.
If you don’t have your own income, it’s critical to figure out how you will live, both in the short and long term. Be careful about assuming that your partner will voluntarily pay your living expenses; divorce has a way of bringing out the worst in people. Also, many times, spousal support, if you are entitled to it does not come close to covering all of your living expenses. So, prepare yourself for this reality. Consulting with a reputable attorney refined in the craft of handling divorce matters will be helpful here.
You may have to temporarily accept a living situation that is less-than-ideal at first. If you’re in an abusive relationship, contact shelters in your area. Even if they are not a fit, they will have access to other resources within your city. Alternately, consider staying with friends or family until you can get back on your feet. Or, perhaps in your case, living under the same roof while the legal process is sorted is a viable option. Regardless of your intentions, it would be beneficial to have at least one back-up plan as we all know, sometimes situations with alternative living arrangements change. You don’t need someone’s change of mind to leave you with nowhere to go.
Once you file for divorce, it is as though marital assets are placed on hold. There are benefits to this, such as the spouse that maintains health insurance for the other spouse would be required to continue coverage until the divorce is final. However, there are also downsides because there are limits on what assets can be sold and how the proceeds are divided. Be careful to learn the laws in your jurisdiction before you assume that you can make certain unilateral financial decisions. Your attorney can assist you with this analysis.
When it comes to paperwork, divorce is even worse than buying a house. The more information you have access to, the better. You can start by making copies of any important documents in the home – tax returns, insurance paperwork for home, automobiles, life insurances, mortgage documents…you get the picture. Place these in a safe location so that you can access them later.
Don’t assume that you’ll still have easy access to any online accounts. Again, divorce often brings out the worst in people and passwords may be changed without your consent. Log in to any important joint accounts and take screenshots, or save the information to a flash drive, of the vital information. Make sure that you have account numbers and other information you may need to regain access. This is not being sneaky; this is protecting yourself and your equal access to marital information.
Consult/Hire an Attorney
Some may say that the best way to locate an attorney that fits your needs is by word of mouth. Others may say do your homework and research, divorce attorneys. Whatever your function will be with this regard, this process should not be influenced by others’ emotions as we all have our own set of “sunglasses” when it comes to the issue of divorce. Be the captain of your own ship. Of course, taking someone else’s advice means that you have to reveal your intentions to at least one other person. So, if your intention is to not make your situation public, family and friends may not be the proper choice for you.
Be realistic in what you want from your attorney. Make sure you select an attorney that fits your needs. You may want to explore mediation, so are the attorneys you are looking to speak with experience in that endeavor? Are you able to afford their fee structure? Do they have experience in your particular situation? Are they someone that you feel comfortable with? If you approach meeting with an attorney as an interview process, this will help you organize your questioning and maximize your consultation time with them.
It’s also worth spending a little time educating yourself about the divorce process in your area. It’s an emotional and confusing task and having some knowledge about what to expect goes a long way to making it just a little bit easier. But please be cognizant that there is no cookie-cutter process. Sometimes the process can be a grey area, depending on your specific situations. That is why having an expert family law attorney on your team can be invaluable.
Your Support Systems
Divorce is not a time to be stoical and attempt to do it alone. If you feel contented to do so, consider opening up to a select group of friends or family. Maybe you would feel comfortable if you joined a divorce group or a discussion forum? With technology these days, it is very easy to find a support group. Maybe your religious affiliations would offer an unbiased ear for you? We all need to vent out our problems at one point or another, and finding that person or group that has gone through or is going through the same issues could offer you support that your family or friends cannot; and your mental or emotional self could benefit greatly from it, so long as it feels like it is a move in a positive forward direction for you. Be cautious of people or groups that pull you down and keep you in a negative spiral. You may simply want to wait until the divorce is public knowledge to lock arms with your support systems, but it is a good idea to decide ahead of time who you think you can lean on during the rough periods.
Consider bringing in some professionals, in the form of a counselor, coach or even someone who will provide you with additional support (for example, getting a regular massage during a divorce to help with the ravages of stress on the body). Sometimes your additional support system is doing what you need to do for your own mental health so that you are better equipped to make rational emotional decisions.
While you’re shoring up your alliances, also pay attention to those that bring negative energy into your life. It doesn’t mean they are awful humans, but this just might be the time to keep certain people or groups at arm’s length, for a time, to avoid negative influences. Remember, this is your life and ultimately you are the one making the decisions on how you will go forward.
Breaking the News
This just might be the hardest part, especially if the choice is one-sided and you believe that the decision for divorce will not be taken well. Or this could be the smoothest part as your spouse may be thinking the same thing, and just can’t communicate it to you. In any event, how you deliver the news is critical.
Having your exit plan charted out may help you immensely. It can be a great reference vehicle for you as you navigate how to end your relationship. Chart your exit strategy out on paper, not just in your head. This process can be monumental for you. You can pull out your chart to remind yourself of your goals going forward and how to deal with certain responses.
Create Boundaries and Structure
Divorce can leave plangent voids in your life. Be careful and aware. Without prior planning, it can be tempting to fill the voids in unhealthy ways. Additionally, people tend to experience better mental health when they have some boundaries. The end of a marriage erases some of those lines and so it’s important to replace them with some sort of structure to keep from feeling a sense an emotional free-fall after the divorce.
Take advantage of this time to fill your schedule with healthy endeavors.
In closing, It is good to realize that no matter how much you plan, you will not be able to foresee all that divorce will entail. Nonetheless, a plan ahead of time can help assuage some angst and can equalize some of the trials that you may face. Expect the unexpected? Absolutely. Then you won’t be taken out by your emotions or have a deer in the headlight position if the shit hits the fan and you haven’t had any thoughts about the unexpected. But don’t dwell on the unexpected. And as you move through the next several months, keep reminding yourself that this will get easier.
One day at a time.