by Mollie G. Caplis | Family Law Attorney
As I write this today, I am in Week #3 of working exclusively from home. The acronym, WFH, now has meaning. I am in Week #2 of WFH with two, elementary school aged children. For over three weeks, I have not left my house except to go for walks, hikes, or runs. I am socially distancing from everyone in the world except my spouse and children.
Social distancing is an intense experience, which fills me with gratitude and laughter, as well as fear, frustration, and anxiety. When is this pandemic and its effects going to end? My sense is that it may be awhile before life as we knew it before COVID-19 goes back to normal, and we are back to the daily grind of commuting to and from work, after school activities, and socializing with others.
Until then, if you find yourself self-quarantined with a spouse with whom you no longer wish to be married, you may find yourself asking, “Can I even get divorced now?” I have been thinking about my clients and future clients a lot during this time, because it must be incredibly challenging to be isolated with someone whom makes life more difficult and challenging. And for my clients whom have already separated, I am relieved that they are no longer under the additional stress of having to endure a quarantined, unhappy relationship. But, I imagine that with the impacts of the Coronavirus, i.e., job insecurity, market volatility, and public health concerns, people are reticent to move forward with getting a divorce. Additionally, as of the date of this writing, Maryland state courts are operating on a very limited capacity. While emergency family law matters and matters of domestic violence, such as petitions for peace and protective orders, are being heard, the courthouse will not be your best destination for a prompt resolution of your divorce case.
The good news is that the answer to my question is YES, you can get divorced even during this unprecedented time. The Coronavirus has put life in perspective for us, so that the basic goals of health, happiness, and safety feel like a priority and the insignificant issues such as who gets to keep the dishes or the couch in the basement will be less important. Being abundantly reasonable coupled with financial consciousness lend itself to resolving disputes through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods even during this unprecedented time.
What types of ADR can we do now? Well, for example, I have a client who attended mediation this week via video conferencing with a mediator and her spouse. I did not participate, but we prepared thoroughly in advance of the mediation and even created a “cheat sheet,” so the client was ready to address all topics at issue. Also, keep in mind that since October 2018, parties are eligible for an absolute divorce on the grounds of mutual consent as long as they have reached a global written settlement agreement, which addresses alimony, property, and minor children and neither party moves to set aside the agreement. In other words, you no longer have to be physically separated in order to get divorced if you satisfy those terms.
In short, living through a pandemic is no easy feat but it certainly puts life in perspective. Stay safe, take care of yourself physically and mentally, and make the best of this down time. For some, it may involve reading a book or spring cleaning, and for others, it may involve making some big changes in your life. If you are ready to do that now, feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or give me a call (410-659-1325), and we can discuss your goals and options to consider.
Visit our COVID-19 Resource Page for more updates.