Divorce and COVID-19

At the time we’re writing this, the outbreak of novel coronavirus COVID-19 is still dramatically impacting families here in Chicago and around the world. In this unprecedented time, our first priority is making sure that everyone is safe and healthy. 

As coronavirus spreads, it is causing ripple effects that touch on nearly every aspect of day-to-day life — with serious repercussions when it comes to divorce and family law matters. 

COVID-19 is forcing healthcare workers and first responders to spend more time on the job, heroically serving others and keeping our communities safe. The “Stay-at-Home” orders in place here in Illinois and in states around the country have shuttered many businesses, halted travel plans, and caused families to go into isolation at home, in order to promote healthy social distancing and “flatten the curve” on the outbreak. While many deal with the illness directly, others must deal with mental health and lifestyle challenges that are cropping up in its wake. 

In short, it is a time of uncertainty and change — and this can place a serious burden on couples and families. 

In China, the country that first reported COVID-19 cases and went into quarantine, officials have seen a dramatic climb in divorce rates in recent weeks — including “record-high numbers of divorce filings in early March,” according to Bloomberg News. As one local official put it to China’s Global Times

“Many couples have been bound with each other at home for over a month, which evoked the underlying conflicts… the office had been closed for a month, therefore, the office has seen an acutely increasing [rate of] divorce appointments.”

Could we see a similar rise in divorces here in the U.S.? In the media, many experts have been forecasting the potential for a divorce “boom” to come when the effects of COVID-19 eventually slow down. Whether that wave is coming or not, the coronavirus is creating issues here at home that millions of couples and families find themselves forced to address right now — from handling their ongoing cases with closed courthouses; to living with estranged partners or spouses; to navigating shifting schedules and co-parenting arrangements.

Going Into Isolation with a Partner During COVID-19

As a result of “Stay-at-Home” orders and social distancing guidelines, many couples are finding themselves having to remain at home with a partner. For all couples, staying inside with a partner and kids can lead to disagreements and tension, which can be exacerbated by all the additional coronavirus stress going around. This situation can be even more complicated if one spouse previously had plans to leave the other, or if the couple was in the midst of separating. 

Lisa, 37, who is living with an estranged partner and kids in Nebraska, recently told her story to New York Magazine

“I’ve thought a lot about our living situation… There are moments every day that I think about asking him to leave but I take a step back and realize we can’t afford to do that right now. Afford is a funny word, you know? In this context it refers to everything: financial, work and child-care scheduling, a mental break from the toddler screaming so self-care can happen. We are both working from home, about four feet from one another’s work space with a toddler. We communicate as co-parents and roommates, while waiting to have the relationship conversations until nighttime when the baby is sleeping or in a controlled environment like therapy.”

In other cases, staying in with a partner can, sadly, become dangerous. As Stephanie Love-Patterson, executive director of Connections for Abused Women and their Children, put it to the Chicago Tribune: “Abuse doesn’t stop in times of pandemic.” 

In fact, the isolation and stress of coronavirus may exacerbate existing problems — while many public places like schools and businesses have closed, cutting off some common means of relief and escape. 

At this time, domestic violence shelters in Chicago and throughout Illinois remain open, according to the Tribune, with “plans in the works should that change due to the coronavirus outbreak.” The offices of the state’s domestic violence hotline remain open, and service providers are finding more ways to help online and remotely, including “working with their clients to come up with alternatives for keeping safe when they have to stay at home,” like finding discreet ways to contact neighbors or getting help through local businesses, such as pharmacies. 

The courts are also continuing to handle emergency matters, including orders of protection. As WGN succinctly explains: 

“For domestic violence matters, petitioners may seek orders of protection [while other cases are postponed]. Litigants may also seek an order of protection related to an existing civil domestic relations case, such as dissolution of marriage.”

If you need help, the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline is available at 877-863-6338; Connections for Abused Women and Their Children can be reached at 773-278-4566. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available at 1-800-799-7233. 

Co-Parenting: Dealing with Issues and Finding Solutions

Co-parenting with an ex can be tricky, even under the best of circumstances. It can be made all the more difficult with the confusion and anxiety of COVID-19 hanging overhead. If you need guidance or clarity on sharing parental responsibilities or solving problems right now, don’t hesitate to reach out to us to get the conversation started. 

In the meantime, the Chief Judge of the Domestic Relations Division of Cook County has entered a general order regarding parenting time, in order to pre-empt any co-parenting issues that may arise in the coming weeks. The order is summarized as follows:

  • For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered Parenting Time Schedule, the parties’ regular parenting time schedule shall control in all instances. Possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID-19 pandemic, and such closure shall not be considered a “day off from school.”
  • Unless otherwise directed by further order of Court, the parties shall continue to follow their respective parenting time schedules.
  • Nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court order(s), or courts from modifying their orders. Parties are strongly encouraged to act in the best interest of their children and are strongly admonished from taking acts that would imperil the physical health of any child, including unnecessary or discretionary travel.

For more, you can read our guide to “Co-Parenting During Coronavirus and Other Emergency Situations,” available here. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts also have some important guidelines for parents who are divorced or separated and dealing with coronavirus, here

We will continue to keep you abreast of all updates and developments on social media and email, as we learn them.

If you have any more in-depth questions about how coronavirus and its economic effects may impact your family’s legal arrangements, we would be happy to keep the conversation going about: 

  • maintenance (formerly spousal support)
  • allocation of marital debt
  • child support
  • allocation of parental responsibility and parenting time
  • updating parenting agreements
  • estate planning

Managing the Day-to-Day and Making Time for Self-Care

Staying confined to your home and immediate neighborhood can be a major source of stress — particularly when “home” right now may also be serving as a school, conference room, art studio, gym, and executive office. 

During this “new normal,” it’s important to find ways to stay active, safe, and healthy at home — caring for your family while also finding creative ways to decompress and protect your own well-being and peace of mind. 

Find ways to promote a healthy structure to the day, and make lots of time for fun and play for any children in your care. Be open and receptive when your little ones have questions about the coronavirus situation, but be patient and lead by example. Don’t be afraid to make your kids part of planning your day, to give them a sense of ownership and help them feel included. 

Look for ways to help everyone in your family stay social and connected to the outside world. For parents, this might mean planning regular calls with friends or family on Zoom or Skype. For kids, fun online tools like Facebook Messenger Kids make it easy to stay in touch with classmates. Look for unique opportunities to stay connected, like signing up for a pen pal; taking a virtual tour of a local museums or gallery; or livestreaming fun online classes and videos. 

Don’t forget to make time for self-care. Every little thing you do for yourself can make a big difference. Pamper yourself with at-home spa treatments, make time for meditation, devote a few days a week to exercise, focus on eating healthy meals, and enjoy your favorite books, music, and TV shows. 

Looking for ideas on how to make the most of your time at home, or make things easier for your whole family? Here are some informative articles and resources on that we have been reading and watching:

We Are Here to Help — However and Whenever We Can

During this difficult time, please know that all of us at the Law Offices of J. Jeltes are here for you. If you or your family is struggling to adjust and you may have a legal issue to address, please give us a ring or drop us a line. 

We know that matters of family law do not slow down, even in these unusual circumstances. Though the Cook County Courts are essentially closed and operating remotely until May 18th, legal assistance can be provided electronically — and institutions are adapting to keep up with our ever-evolving situation. 

For instance? At this time, COVID-19 will not stop you from finalizing your uncontested divorce in Cook County. A General Order was recently issued, allowing virtual “prove-ups” to finalize your divorce by agreement. This means that if you are looking to get divorced during this time, and you and your spouse agree on the terms, uncontested divorces are moving forward in an efficient manner. We have put together a flat fee promo package for these types of cases, so that you can anticipate your total costs in these uncertain times. More information is available here. 

Have any questions? Looking to start the conversation? Our team of experienced and compassionate advocates is still here and ready to provide skilled, efficient, and affordable legal representation to individuals and families facing life’s most challenging family transitions. 

As our community adjusts to the ongoing efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, our team is continuing to work full-time while practicing safe social distancing measures. Our support staff will continue to be able to assist you and will be receiving all calls and messages during our normal business hours, 9:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. Please stay safe and be well.