By Jeffery M. Leving:
The coronavirus pandemic impacted every facet of our lives. We changed how we worked. We changed how we socialized. We changed how we parented and educated our children. With all these changes, it should come as no surprise that we changed how the legal system operated, particularly when it came to family law and divorce.
Divorce is likely to be a growing issue in the coming months. According to a recent report in Kiplinger, the rates of people looking to get a divorce increased dramatically once the courts started to open back up after lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. The jump was significant. My firm saw an increase in all manner of inquiries – divorce and non-marital conflict involving parents, children and finances – in spring 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.
How has the pandemic changed divorce? The following will briefly discuss two of the biggest changes.
1. Lockdown led to reevaluation of marriage
Researchers with Bowling Green State University’s Center for Family and Demographic Research have analyzed marriage and divorce data from 2020. They report that the rate of both marriage and divorce in most states throughout the country dropped during the pandemic. This initial drop is likely the direct result of stay-at-home orders, closed wedding venues and courts operating only for emergencies.
This reasoning is supported by the fact that divorce attorneys reported an increase in contacts after divorce courts began to reopen. Although national statistics are not yet available, numbers reported by the New York Times were even more concerning than those completed by the Bowling Green researchers. The New York Times reports family law offices experienced an increase in contacts with questions about divorce by almost 50% compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
2. Increase in the use of alternative dispute resolution for divorce
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provides an alternate option to litigation for divorce. Although already common prior to the pandemic, those currently going through a divorce are using it at an increased rate. Why? In many cases, it was the only option. As noted above, courts were essentially closed for all but emergencies. Those who wanted a divorce could move forward, but generally only if they chose mediation, arbitration, or collaborative divorce — all forms of ADR.
What if I am considering divorce?
You can take steps to help ease the process. Whether the divorce is amicable or contentious, the following steps can help you prepare for the divorce process:
- Focus on the kids. If children are present, start thinking about child custody, parenting time and support. If you are fighting for custody, it can help to be actively involved in the child’s life, support their physical, mental and emotional health and encourage a relationship with the other parent if it is safe to do so.
- Get paperwork in order. Divorce is a legal process. As such, you will generally need to show the value of all marital assets. Getting this information organized before negotiations begin can help save time and frustration.
It is also important to delegate. You do not need to take on every step of the divorce on your own. A specialist can help with business and other high-stake assets, and an experienced and talented attorney can advocate for your interests.
Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of The Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving, Ltd., and is an advocate for the rights of fathers. He is the author of Fathers’ Rights, Divorce Wars and How to be a Good Divorced Dad, the latter of which was endorsed by President Obama and by Cardinal Francis E. George, then the archbishop of Chicago.