Sheltering in place during a pandemic is stressful. Divorce rates during COVID-19 are expected to rise. For some already tenuous relationships being together mostly 24/7 is causing what were little cracks to become fissures. Formerly hidden by work schedules or outside activities or kid responsibilities, now those glossed over imperfections look like gaping holes.
Many couples are contemplating or beginning the divorce process. We learned yesterday that the courts in Cook County would be operating under emergency restrictions for at least another month. So that means nothing can move forward towards “untying the knot” right now, right? And if a couple had already started the process, they’re still in limbo until the courts open, true? Cook County is already one of the busiest family courts in the country. It’s likely that increased divorce because of COVID-19 will cause back-ups for quite some time moving forward. So you’re stuck.
One of the surprises divorcing couples encounter is how long the process takes. And with a divorce court operating on emergency orders because of COVID-19, it’s going to take even longer. How’s the stress level going to be for that family?
Well, couples have options to limit the amount of time, money, and angst once they decide to divorce. Using different methods and the right professionals is key. This allows people to move their process forward even while the divorce court is operating under the restrictions due to COVID-19.
One of the unforeseen gifts of this pandemic for a divorcing couple is using alternative methods of divorce during COVID-19. Divorcing differently tees up more thoughtful choices in the process. It leaves families in a healthier place beyond divorce.
While divorce is a legal process, the decisions are primarily financial or family-oriented. Those discussions and decisions can move forward even while our courts aren’t fully operating. Keeping those discussions out of a litigation process might save professional fees and bruised feelings from arguments and misunderstandings.
How to Divorce During COVID-19?
Consider a process that is private and determined outside of the courtroom by the divorcing couple.
What to know about Mediation
The couple works with a trained divorce mediator, outlines their agreement on things like finances and children’s schedules. The Mediator is a neutral person. They aren’t going to favor one spouse over the other. A good Mediator will help a couple get past the hard parts of dissolving their marriage. They also assist in staying focused on goals for the family moving forward.
After a couple has agreed upon the terms, the Mediator writes everything up in a Memorandum of Understanding. Know that this is not a legal document. An attorney uses the Memorandum of Understanding to draft into the Marriage Settlement Agreement and, if needed, a Parenting Agreement. These documents file with the court to finalize the divorce process.
Even using a Mediator, we encourage both parties to have an attorney. A family law attorney knows the legal process, and with their representation, they are looking out for your interests. By definition, a mediator isn’t going to do this as they need to remain neutral. Think of the Mediator as a guide through the process. An attorney is an advocate.
Consider a Collaborative Divorce
The Collaborative Divorce process is also private; the couple works together with their attorneys and often one or two divorce coaches and collaboratively trained Divorce Financial Analysts. Depending on the situation, others like a Child Specialist or someone needed for Business Valuation may help. The divorcing couple can schedule their entire process with their team of professionals. They control the timeline, have more power over their budget, and keep all proceedings out of public record.
The Collaborative Divorce Process focuses on peaceful and forward-looking solutions. Using a team of professionals in the legal, financial, coaching, and mental health fields, the couple is in charge of their process, budget, and schedule.
It can be hard to picture this process. Many of us have seen the “Divorce Story” depiction. Divorcing differently can avoid the knock-down-drag-out battle that costs too much and can hurt the family moving forward.
Picture this; each person hires their attorney. They have someone looking out for their best interests who knows their state divorce laws and guides them through decisions. It’s crucial that the participating attorneys know the Collaborative Process, and keep up with that training. There’s an art to pivoting divorce to a goal-oriented journey instead of a fight. As you put together your Collaborative Divorce team look for professionals explicitly trained in the process.
In a typical Collaborative Divorce, there is at least one and perhaps two Divorce Coaches. They are the process managers and thinking partners. A good Divorce Coach will help people walk through the “what-ifs” of the divorce. She will make sure the parties understand what’s going on and help keep the meetings balanced. A Divorce Coach should hold a recognized certification such as CDC® Certified Divorce Coach.
The Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA) presents financial options, helps organize information, and assists in understanding the finance of divorce. Usually, one person is more versed in money matters. The CDFA® can help answer the questions of the person not used to taking care of financial issues. Divorce finances can go far beyond investments. One household splits into two. Ensuring you address budgets and cash flow viability is also an essential part of the process.
The CDC® and CDFA® are specialists in their areas, and as a general rule bill significantly less than attorneys. Using them should mean more efficiency, fewer mistakes, and more understanding of what’s going on during, and how life will look after, the divorce.
How does a Collaborative Divorce look? It doesn’t look like this. You meet with your attorney. They then talk to the opposing attorney. The attorneys discuss or negotiate, and take that back to you. You continue this back and forth process until you reach an agreement. Instead, everyone is in the room. Or as we are operating right now, in the Zoom. Together. At the same time. Everyone in the same discussion reduces the chances of misinformation and misunderstanding. Life goals for each person post-divorce are front and center throughout all of the meetings. The professional team keeps the process on track.
When everyone is at the table, the back and forth discussion can lead to a greater understanding of the going-to-be-ex. And that can lead to more harmonious, empathetic, and respectful lives after the divorce is final.
The beauty of both of these processes? In addition to being goal-focused, not focused on either winning or punishing, they work in our current limited contact conditions. And the “Prove-Up,” which is the final court filing that ends the marriage, can be done remotely via Zoom.
So your lives can move forward. #betterlifebeyonddivorce #divorcedifferently
Brenda is a Divorce Coach, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, Divorce Mediator, and Collaborative Divorce Financial Professional. If you’d like a complimentary consult or need resources, reach out through the Bridge-ing Better Life Beyond Divorce website. They can also reach out via phone or email to have a quick consult, to find out where they are and the best way to support them in moving forward.