While it may not have been easy, it was at least tolerable for a few weeks sheltering in place with your spouse in the middle of your divorce. However, as the shelter in place orders have extended in many cases into May, it has become more difficult and hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
There are a few things you can do to keep yourself from going crazy as you wait for courts to open, houses to be sold, and your divorce finalized.
- Keep in touch with your divorce lawyer. Just because courts are operating on limited schedules it does not mean that your case cannot move forward. Prior to finalizing a divorce, discovery usually takes place, disclosures of financial information exchanged, and in some cases appraisals and business valuations done. This is the perfect time to engage in the activities that need to happen prior to finalizing the divorce and can be done while waiting for courts to become fully operational. Talk to your lawyer about what needs to be done in your case so you are ready to proceed with settlement discussions, mediation, or, if necessary, trial, when shelter in place orders are lifted.
- Give consideration for your “wish list.” Take the time to consider your ideal wish list for how property is divided, what spousal support looks like, what the ideal parenting plan will be, and any other matters that are important to you in resolving your divorce. Make the list and set it aside so that you have time to think about how important each item is for you. This will help guide you when you do start talking to your spouse, lawyer, or mediator about a potential resolution.
- Take the time to prepare your affidavit of financial information. An Affidavit of Financial Information (referred to in different states sometimes by different names) is a statement to the court that informs the court about your income and expenses. This is an important document that will help determine whether you can pay your reasonable expenses if you are seeking support, or if you are able to pay your expenses while still paying some support to your spouse if you are being asked to pay support. Oftentimes this document does not get the attention it needs because it takes time to go through financial statements, credit card statements, and check registers to determine how much you spend on things like food, clothing, household supplies, transportation and utilities. Use the time you have at home to go over these expenses. If feasible, talk to your spouse about the expenses so that you both have an agreement on how much it currently costs as a household for these items.
- Consider settlement of non-controversial issues. During a pending divorce, there is a tendency to want to settle everything all at once. However, it is not necessary to do so. Taking small steps to settle some issues, even if not the big issues like custody, support, or whether the marital residence will be sold, will help move the case forward. For example, especially if both parties are sheltering in place in the same location, prepare a list of the division of the marital personal property. Going through the home and dividing, at least on paper, the furnishings and household hold items, will save time later. Making pre-decree distributions of funds in checking, savings, and investment accounts may also be done, provided there is some agreement on how the joint expenses during the divorce continue to be paid. Make a list with your spouse of the things that can be settled now. If represented by counsel, the list can be prepared into a formal stipulation that is filed with the court.
- Take care of yourself. It is easy to forget the need to take care of yourself during this process. Eating healthy, staying active, eliminating as much stress in your life as possible, are all important aspects of making sure you are in the right place physically and emotionally to proceed with the divorce process when shelter-in-place orders are lifted.
- Practice gratitude. Give yourself the gift of time right now. Take time to see what you really want and how you want to proceed. You may find that rather than rushing through a divorce, the idea of reconnecting with each other, or finding that there is nothing to reconnect over, will bring some certainty to the decision you think you have made. You may also find that a divorce is not what you really want, but rather what was missing was time together, talking with each other, and sharing things with each other that caused you to fall in love in the first place. You may wish to explore with your attorney the idea of a post-nuptial agreement to resolve financial issues while concentrating on trying to remain in a marriage. Or, perhaps rather than a divorce, the two of you would rather have a legal separation. On the other hand, the prolonged time spent together may make your decision to proceed even more certain. Either way, be grateful for the gift of time you have been given, and the luxury of not rushing through a process that forever changes your future.
- If you are ready mediation is still an option. Although not ideally the same as participating in person, most mediators have been able to utilize web-based conferencing such as Zoom or GoToMeeting, to still conduct mediations without the need to appear in person. You will still be able to be in a “separate” private room with your counsel while your spouse and counsel are in a separate room and the mediator will go back and forth between the two “rooms.” If you are ready to finalized the process talk to your lawyer about this alternative.
Keeping these 7 tips in mind will not only help speed the process along once you are able to resume your matter, but will likely provide for a better, more thoughtful outcome.
About the Author:
Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office and co-chair of the firm’s Family Law Practice. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including as a co-author of the Divorce in Arizona book. She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country. Ms. Pontrelli is also an adjunct professor at The Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, where she teaches the family law class. Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081.