Everything You Need To Know About Divorce In A Pandemic
Family Law Roundtable

Two years into the pandemic, many families are still struggling with the never-ending stresses of marriage, kids, work – just life in general. For some, the best solution may be to change the family structure by separating or getting a divorce. It’s a difficult decision and a complex process, but family law attorneys step in to advise, guide and even comfort. We spoke with 9 lawyers who specialize in family law to discover how families are making their way through difficult times, and what options may help along the way. Because one thing the attorneys all agree on: No matter how bad things may seem, better days lie ahead.

 

Participants:

Moderator, Marianne Aleardi,  Publisher, SJ Magazine

Ronald Lieberman, Adinolfi, Lieberman, Burick, Roberto & Molotsky

Dawn Kaplan, Weinberg, Kaplan & Smith

Nicole Donoian-Pody, Charny Karpousis Altieri & Donoian

Bruce Matez, BorgerMatez

D. Ryan Nussey, Klineburger & Nussey

Amy Smith, Weinberg, Kaplan & Smith

Sonya Zeigler, Stolfe Zeigler

Jennie Owens, Archer

Lynda Hinkle, Law Offices of Lynda L. Hinkle

 

Divorce & The Pandemic

Just like the great resignation, where people are leaving their jobs, they’re also examining life as a whole. That has led them to question if they are happy in their marriage, which has translated to more divorces.
Jennie Owens

People have either been living together and finding more happiness in their marriage or they are realizing they should get a divorce. And as things start to go back to normal, I think we’re going to end up having a bigger influx of divorces, because that’s when people will get to the point of: I’ve had enough.
Bruce Matez

During the pandemic, mental health and addiction issues were so exasperated. That caused quite a lot of people to reach the end of their ropes.
Lynda Hinkle

We often see people come in because of adultery – they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. But when we were in lockdown and they couldn’t get out, many tried to see if they could rekindle or reconnect with their spouse. But now that they can go out and be on their phones again, they come in saying, “Well, you know, I thought we were going to be able to keep it going.”
Sonya Zeigler

Gray Divorce

Ten years ago, I wasn’t doing much of what we call gray divorce. But now I’m seeing more people in their 60s, 70s – I even have a 90-year-old getting divorced.
Amy Smith

People in their 80s are healthy now. They have money. For whatever reason, they look like they’re in their 70s. And now they’re like, “Hey, I probably have 10 more years. I want to live well.” So they decide they want a divorce.
Ryan Nussey

We’re all looking inward and examining our lives. Some are thinking, “I’ve already lived with this person for 60 years, do I want to spend the next 10 with them?”
Jennie Owens

After Divorce

Even though divorce may be viewed as a negative, for any of us who have been married and divorced, it’s a chance for a whole new lease on life. It gives you the ability to live a way you didn’t live before. When I follow up with clients, most of them are happy. Even the women who thought they’d never find someone, most of them are happy.
Sonya Zeigler

Even clients we see who were most broken, who it wasn’t their choice, they will say it was ultimately a blessing. They will tell you they are happy. Even if they’re still alone, they say they’ve learned to be happy being alone rather than being with the wrong person.
Dawn Kaplan

Divorce & Kids

People used to say they were staying in a bad marriage for the kids. But people now know that, as long as they treat the other parent like an adult, the kids are going to be fine. They don’t have to put themselves second and the kids first anymore.
Ron Lieberman

One of the big issues we’re dealing with right now is concerning Covid vaccinations. Mom may decide I want to have my child vaccinated. Dad, on the other hand, may absolutely not want the child vaccinated. We then have to file a motion with the court, and the judge has to make that decision. But Covid is something new, so there is not a lot of case law. It’s the trial court judge who is making that decision. We’re finding that, from judge to judge, they’re deciding differently. It’s been a challenge for parents.
Amy Smith

People stay for their kids, but the arguing, the stress, the violence or hostility is not great for kids. The better path might be living separately and having your kids go to counseling if they need it. They can get the support they need rather than living in a home that’s a pressure cooker.
Nicole Donoian-Pody

Kids are dealing with issues that are so much bigger today. They’re dealing with gender identity issues, they’re dealing with sexuality questions, they’re dealing with cyber bullying. It’s so much bigger than, “Oh gosh, your mom and dad are divorced.”
Sonya Zeigler

Fleeing Domestic Violence

Most people who file for a restraining order – it takes them a while to get there. But they’ll say the reason they did was because they didn’t want their children to think that’s an ok way to live. They didn’t want their children to learn that’s how a relationship should be.
Nicole Donoian-Pody

When you have a male perpetrator and sons in the house, as the boys get older, they will defend their mom. So now there’s potential violence between the son and the father. I’ve had a few women who said, “I was planning to stay in the marriage until my kids went to college. But now that my son is jumping in front of me, it’s time to file.”
Sonya Zeigler

Virtual Divorce

A downside to the virtual proceedings is sometimes people have their kids sitting there watching. Those kids wouldn’t be in the courtroom. That’s a sad, sad situation. The kids shouldn’t be involved.
Lynda Hinkle

When you pop into the virtual meeting, it’s as if you’re in a courtroom. You need to be dressed – the towel isn’t on your head after a shower. The door is shut, and it’s quiet. Recognize the judge is looking at you and probably able to make better credibility determinations looking at you now, because you’re right there on the screen.
Jennie Owens

I’ve seen where there’s somebody off camera, where it’s kind of like “The Tonight Show” and they’re holding up cue cards to essentially tell them what to say. You can see the person’s eyes look off camera. So you’re never really sure if someone’s there because they feel threatened, which you hope is never the case, or someone’s there coaching them or just for moral support. These are things that would never happen in an actual courtroom, but we can’t fix it.
Ron Lieberman

I call it Zoom muscles. Everybody’s really brave when they’re sitting at home in their own environment. It’s a different story when you’re in a courthouse before a judge, and no one is home coaching you or passing you notes. At some point, it’s important that people and attorneys get back into the courthouse. There’s a significant value to that.
Nicole Donoian-Pody

We’re losing some of the formality of the courtroom. Sometimes just having the sheriff’s officer there has an impact on people. Or seeing the judge sitting on the bench in the black robe, that has an impact on people. There’s a respect and a formality you just don’t get on Zoom.
Bruce Matez

Clients’ Mental Health

People are hurt right now, and they’re not doing well. They’re self-medicating – alcohol sales and marijuana usage have gone up some ridiculous amount. Before, we had to go to the office and people saw us in the morning, so you could tell if somebody had an issue. But now we’re not seeing people. We literally have a list of therapists and resources we give out because it’s easy to see people are not doing well.
Ryan Nussey

We’re seeing more kids need therapy than ever before. You can link that right to Covid, unfortunately.
Amy Smith

The Decision to Divorce

Before you have any conversation about wanting a divorce with your spouse, talk to your financial advisor as well as your lawyer. You may tell your spouse and the next thing you know, something is missing from your bank account. Think ahead.
Ron Lieberman

What can make our job difficult is that a couple normally doesn’t get to the same place at the same time. You will have one person who has all their information ready, because they decided a year ago they were getting a divorce. Only they didn’t tell their spouse until 2 weeks ago. So that spouse feels they were blindsided, even though we could probably point out red flags to explain why they weren’t blindsided. What makes it difficult is there is one person who made the decision, and they brought the other person along.
Dawn Kaplan

I have clients who come to see me who aren’t sure if they want a divorce. I can never tell someone what they should do. But if you’re thinking about it, go have that initial consultation with a lawyer. Find out what divorce looks like for you. How does it impact your finances, your kids. We can’t make that ultimate decision for you. We can just tell you what it will look like.
Jennie Owens

Talk to an attorney before doing anything. Sometimes people decide they want to divorce because of emotional reasons, but when they hear the financial reality they change their mind. You don’t want to have the conversation with your spouse before you know the reality.
Lynda Hinkle

Cost of Divorce

Cost depends on factors we have no control over – the other litigant, the other attorney and how willing people are to reach an agreement. Everyone asks how much their divorce will cost, but we have no way of predicting that.
Nicole Donoian-Pody

Divorce is a team sport. If a divorce is going to get done and done well, in the least expensive way possible, it requires cooperation from everybody involved. If you have cooperation, quite frankly, the court can save people a ton of money in the long run.
Bruce Matez

You have to be practical. It’s not about the principle of the matter. You need to make good financial decisions.
Jennie Owens

Mediation

A mediator is completely neutral and doesn’t impose his or her opinion or beliefs on the participants. We usually have anywhere from 3 to 5 sessions, maybe a few more, depending on how complicated the issues are. Parenting issues can take some time. I mediate with lawyers or without lawyers, depending on what the clients want. I give suggestions, ask questions, facilitate the discussion. Sometimes I send them home and say, “Why don’t you think about this for a few weeks, talk to your lawyer or therapist.” I want to give people a chance to really think things through. But really, mediation is about trying to work through the issues to get to a resolution that everybody thinks is reasonable and fair.
Bruce Matez

The best time to use mediation is when there’s one person who’s completely unrealistic. It’s good to get them in a room with a person who doesn’t have a horse in the game and will say things that make logical sense.
Lynda Hinkle

In a divorce or child custody matter, court rules require you to mediate. So the smart lawyer knows that and will try mediation even before something is filed in court.
Ron Lieberman

In court, the attorneys are the ones speaking. But in mediation, people have to sit across the table from each other. For your average person, it’s difficult to sit across from someone and not answer a question or say things that aren’t true. In mediation, you can’t hide behind good lawyering.
Dawn Kaplan

On Custody

The pandemic forced parties, even the ones who don’t get along, to lean on one another. With remote learning and working from home, you couldn’t do it on your own. We saw that if people really want to, they can work together in a crisis for the sake of their children. So judges today want to know why custody shouldn’t be 50/50, and there has to be some significant issue.
Dawn Kaplan

You have to keep in mind that the child is both of you. If you disparage the other parent, you’re essentially disparaging the other half of that child. That child doesn’t need to hear whatever disputes you had with the other parent. Remember that child needs to love both parents. You’re the adult. That’s the child, let them be a child.
Ron Lieberman

We’re moving more towards 50/50 custody, whether we like it or not. That can be problematic, because it’s going with a very simple option versus looking at what the children need. But that seems to be where judges are starting from.
Ryan Nussey

Clients always ask: What’s the magic age when the judge will talk to a child? There is no magic age. The ages vary judge to judge. But I also tell them when your child is 17 and they’re driving, it’s really hard to control whether that child goes to mom’s or dad’s house.
Amy Smith

Advice To Couples Getting Divorced

Listen to everybody who you are paying to look after your best interest. When you do, it will eventually end and you will be able to move on with your life. It will get better.
Ryan Nussey

I say to all my clients: There’s not a lot I can guarantee in divorce, I can’t guarantee how much alimony you’ll get, how this will play out or what a judge will do. But I can guarantee that I will run into you one day, and you will tell me you’re happy. You will tell me that, ultimately, this was a blessing for you.
Dawn Kaplan

People often think when they’re getting divorced that their spouse is somehow going to act better or be more respectful than they were while the marriage was intact. They think that as attorneys, we can somehow make that person do the right thing. But we don’t have a magic wand.
Sonya Zeigler

I tell clients that at the end of this, the person who is sitting across from me is not going to be the same person I’m going to see in 6 months or a year. You will change – for the better.
Amy Smith

If you are looking for justice, you are not going to find it in family court. You’ll find some kind of fairness or a solution to a problem. But if you’re looking to see that person suffer because they made you suffer, it’s not going to happen. You have to get rid of the emotion and look at it like a business, where you’re separating assets and dealing with your children in a responsible way. Don’t allow emotion to ruin your entire life.
Lynda Hinkle

 


 

February 2022
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