We have all read the headlines that divorce rates are increasing worldwide and those rates are not expected to be dropping soon. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many of us to our limits. People are stressed out and locked down, which has put pressure on relationships that may have already been holding on by a string. Whether you are just considering divorce or are already in the process, below are some of the ways that this pandemic may impact your divorce.
Co-Parenting During Crisis
Even the most reasonable parents can have vastly different ideas about how to keep their children safe and sane during the pandemic. This has led to bitter fights between parents both in and out of court. In general, we turn to CDC guidelines and government orders in determining what types of precautions families should be taking. But these guidelines don’t fit every situation and sometimes their application can be unclear when dealing with loved ones with serious medical conditions. Every family situation is unique and problem-solving should be tailored to your individual circumstances. The advice of a co-parenting coach or even co-parenting mediation can be very helpful when parents can’t agree.
In a divorce, you will need to enter a Parenting Plan with the court that will include a detailed residential schedule for your children. During the pandemic, most children are attending school on-line from home and parents have had to change their work schedules to stay home with their kids. The childcare and work schedule you have in place now might look very different next year when you return to your regular routine. Make sure to account for these upcoming changes and consider a phased residential schedule.
Spousal Support Instability
Spousal support is often largely based on the need of the person requesting support and the paying spouse’s ability to provide support, which means consideration of the income and expenses of both spouses. Right now, many of us have lower expenses because we are staying home more, eating out less, and foregoing travel. In turn, many paying spouses have had a drop in income that impacts their ability to pay support for the foreseeable future. Be sure to consider whether your or your spouse’s drop in income will be short-term or long-term and consider your future expenses when determining support.
Child Support Considerations
The court is tasked with considering all income and resources of each parent’s household when determining child support. Loss of income or employment during this period may make child support calculations tricky. Your family law attorney should gather information regarding any COVID-related income received, such as CARES Act retirement distributions, unemployment benefits, and stimulus payments and rebates.
Valuing Assets in Times of Uncertainty
It’s no surprise that businesses of all kinds have greatly suffered over the last year. This is particularly true for those in the service industry such as restaurants, bars, gyms, and travel-related businesses. Some businesses have stayed open with the aid of federal funds such at the Paycheck Protection Program. But will your loan be forgivable and how are these funds reflected in a business valuation? With more and more of us receiving vaccines, it’s predicted that the economy will rebound but what that means for any particular business is unclear. It could take more than a year to see the true impacts of the pandemic on our businesses. Make sure to hire a highly skilled valuation professional who will understand these rapidly evolving issues. It’s also important to communicate with your lender regarding the guidelines for loan forgiveness, document everything and apply for loan forgiveness!
If one spouse wants to keep the family home, or any other real estate holdings, a value will need to be determined for the property. A licensed real estate appraiser will provide the market value for the house by looking at comparable sales. Although the economy has taken a big hit over the last year due to the pandemic, the residential real estate market has been resilient across the United States and particularly in the Seattle area. However, it’s important to keep an eye on the market and choose the right time to appraise your property.
Court Access & Creative Alternatives
Did you know that the majority of divorces are settled out of court? Over the past year, we have seen an increased focus on creative problem-solving and alternative dispute resolution. This can include early mediation and arbitration, the use of co-parenting coaches, or entering into a Collaborative Law process.
What happens if you can’t reach agreement and need court intervention? The courts are now open but with modified operations. This can mean that your hearing or trial may take longer than usual to be heard by a commissioner or judge. Of course, locally, all family law hearings, arbitrations and mediations are now taking place on-line. It’s important that your attorney is comfortable working with the new technology.
The divorce process may look different but with a focus on creative alternatives you can reach a peaceful resolution in your case.