The COVID-19 pandemic has struck the United States particularly hard. We are closing in on 3 million people infected and more than 130,000 dead at the time of publication. We are also facing the most rapid economic downturn in our history and uncertainty the likes of which America has never known.
For some Oregon couples, the coronavirus and lockdown have either caused problems that didn’t exist before, such as job loss or financial distress, or have amplified existing problems. Either way, these couples are finding it untenable to stay in the relationship.
While there’s never a “good” time for a divorce, getting a marital dissolution during these challenging times can be a nightmare. While some may be taking time to measure whether the relationship can be mended, it may not be possible to delay a divorce in all cases.
In this post, we’ll tell you what you should know about the challenges of getting a divorce during a major pandemic and how you can use this situation to get a fresh start.
Divorce Challenges During the Pandemic
The pandemic and recession are sure to make divorce even more stressful on all parties that it might otherwise be. Some of the particular challenges that spouses throughout Oregon have confronted include:
Lack of Access to Divorce and Family Law Courts
Oregon’s stay-at-home order helped to decrease unnecessary movement and travel by residents. Some parents were not sure of the impact the pandemic had on their existing court orders, so some parenting time may have been lost or denied as parents grappled with whether exchanges were considered “essential” travel. Additionally, confused spouses who might have wanted to learn more about their options may not have been able to meet in person with a lawyer or may not have had transportation.
Additionally, Oregon courts also initially closed to better protect staff and the public. Only emergency hearings were scheduled. While there are currently some cases being heard telephonically, some people are still struggling with meaningful access to courts.
Financial Difficulty and Property Division
Because Oregon is an equitable distribution state, family courts divide marital property among spouses in a way that they see as fair if the parties are unable to reach their own settlement. Spouses are also required to submit a sworn affidavit to the other spouse that lists all assets and liabilities. So what impact does the virus have on dividing marital assets?
- Millions of people have been laid off in the wake of the pandemic.
- Many people are worrying about how to retain health insurance to pay for treatment if they become infected, but they may be losing their health insurance along with their job.
- Many homeowners are struggling to maintain their mortgage while temporary relief is set to expire. It may be difficult for spouses to pay off outstanding debt while struggling to cover even the essentials.
- Retirement accounts may have drastically declined in recent months because of the economic downturn.
All of these situations may ultimately mean that there is less to divided between the spouses.
Concerns Regarding Children
The pandemic has also raised concerns regarding children. Parents who have lost their job or been laid off may struggle to exercise visitation due to lack of funds. Others may be working extra hours to make up for others who have been let go and have less time to dedicate to their children. Still others are grappling with the challenge of working from home while parenting at the same time as many schools and daycares stay closed.
Additionally, parents may be concerned about the precautions that the other parent is (or is not) taking to prevent the spread of the illness. Others in the household may have compromised immune systems or may be at greater risk of contracting the illness, so parents may be worried about funneling children back and forth between households.
Lack of Support Systems
What many of us miss most about the pandemic is the simple act of hugging another person or having in-person contact. However, many people may be losing their support systems amid the pandemic and recession. Grandparents or other extended relatives may not be able to watch children. Friends may be too overwhelmed to offer a sympathetic ear. Counselors may not even be available during this trying time.
Ways to Minimize Conflict and Get the Best Outcome in Your Divorce
While now may seem particularly dire, the challenges also represent opportunities for separating couples to work together to address them. Some ways to minimize conflict and increase the odds of a favorable outcome in your divorce case in Oregon include:
Negotiate for a Favorable Outcome
With less assets in your marital estate, the last thing you will probably want to do is to dwindle them down further while fighting over them. Uncontested cases in which the parties agree on the material terms of their divorce are often much less expensive and can be completed much faster, so you can move on with your life. Try to negotiate for a favorable outcome that is fair to both spouses, if possible. A lawyer can also help you with this process.
Participate in Mediation
If you are unable to reach an agreement on your own, you may be able to reach an agreement through the process of mediation. Mediation is a private process in which parties involved in a legal matter work together with the assistance of a trained third-party neutral who facilitates communication and guides the parties during the process. Most counties in Oregon offer free mediation through the court system.
During mediation, the mediator will try to determine the underlying interests of both spouses and work with them to brainstorm possible solutions to help both spouses achieve their interests. If you are able to reach a decision in mediation concerning all material issues in your divorce, such as division of property, child custody, parenting time, and child support, you can proceed with an uncontested divorce and simply ask the judge to approve your agreement.
Work with an Experienced Lawyer
Getting divorced during a pandemic and recession is not for the weak. It is important that you have an advocate on your side who will help you to identify your long-term needs and help you meet them. A knowledgeable lawyer can explain your legal rights and options to you and help you work out the details of your divorce.