The Corona virus has seeped into every aspect of our lives. Social distancing and the fight to curb the spread of the disease have changed the way we do everything. Businesses are shutdown; employees are working from home. Schools are closed and now virtual; parents are homeschooling. Courts are closed; divorces and custody cases are awaiting judgment. As a divorce financial expert and mediator, I offer insight on how the Corona crisis can positively reframe your divorce.
As of now, courts are not accepting any filings that are non-essential. That means unless a custody arrangement needs to be amended or a temporary order of protection for a child needs to be issued, family court is not likely to be a productive or effective avenue for resolving issues between divorcing or divorced couples.
That is why I recommend couples take this opportunity to pursue channels for alternative dispute resolution, like mediation. Given that we don’t know when the courts will re-open, and assuming those in the midst of a divorce don’t want to drag proceedings on indefinitely, it is worth turning to a mediator to reconcile differences and find a mutually acceptable arrangement. For some, mediations non-binding status offers a less threatening route to de-coupling. For others, it is a way to move through this impasse, and on with their lives, even when the courts are closed.
As I conduct my mediation sessions via Zoom these days, I am seeing couples engage in heightened and improved communication. Facing each other virtually is less imposing than actually sitting in the same room together. Everyone is in their respective “safe spaces,” and no one person can dominate the conversation; kudos that video chat is designed to cutout when too many people are talking at once. The active listening each person is doing now will yield better settlements and post-divorce relationships later.
For many divorcing couples, the Corona virus has upended their financial realities and directly affected the monetary settlement of the split. Property values are very difficult to assess in the current situation. Child support calculations must be reconsidered now that some parents have been either furloughed, laid-off, or taken significant pay cuts. As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and in my role as mediator, I am working with couples to find creative and flexible fiscal solutions. Not only does this kind of compromise breed good-will between the couple, it drastically reduces litigation fees. Similarly, as everyone is feeling the financial pinch at this time, it is easier to separate emotion and money. Settlements aren’t just about “getting what I want/deserve/need,” they reflect a true understanding of what each partner can manage. While the economic fallout of Corona is still unclear, I encourage couples to have clear and honest conversations about money and the “values” they attach to costly things. For example, one parent who used to be “locked” on private school in a densely populated city, might now be open to discussing a quality public school in a good suburban neighborhood.
In general, Corona has motivated more couples to prioritize the best interest of their shared children over all else. Once fueled by hatred and vitriol for each other, couples are now actively showing care and concern for their ex. The palpable fear of illness, the discomfort of isolation, and the realities of co-parenting in a crisis are forcing parents to value the role the other plays in the life of their child.
It is hard to imagine, but I believe that Corona can be a positive backdrop for those in the throes of a divorce. Now, more than ever, is an opportunity to consciously uncouple. Instead of waiting for attorneys to hash things out in court, couples can work with a mediator to listen, hear, and respectfully discuss solutions together. Instead of relying on someone who is paid to advocate only for your best interest, use a mediator who is committed to seeing you both get a reasonable and agreeable settlement. Corona isn’t easy on you, your family or your bank account. It doesn’t have to be hard on your divorce too.