Some married couples who have been ordered to shelter-in-place due to COVID-19 have found they are no longer satisfied with their marriage and are considering divorce. You may not be able to take all the actions you would wish due to the courts being temporarily closed or badly back-logged. However, there are common-sense steps you can take now that will help your divorce lawyer achieve a better eventual outcome on your behalf.
- It starts with you. What is your most important job? Being an attentive parent. The bright side of lockdown is that you have extra time to spend with your children. Remember that if you are facing a custody dispute, you will be evaluated as to whether you can provide a safe and stable home environment for the children. If the children are taking online classes, take an interest in their schoolwork and homework. Supervise the time they spend online and connecting with friends, to make sure they do not make any new friends who are inappropriate for any reason. As the shelter-in-place orders are lifted, stay in the home with the children. A child custody attorney will tell you, no matter how much your spouse annoys you, if you were to move out and leave the children with your spouse, a judge could interpret that unfavorably for you in the custody arrangement.
- Dear Diary. Now is the time to keep a diary of all your activities with your children. Record the time you spend with them during homeschooling, supervising homework, and doing enjoyable activities such as cooking, baking, exercising or watching appropriate television programs and movies on TV. Also, record the time the other parent spends with them. Have there been arguments or ridiculing comments made in front of the children? Record all this too.
- Documentation is important, but it gets tricky if you are in isolation with your family. There are likely no witnesses to parental behavior (other than your children). Gather records of online education and other ways to document the time you have spent with the children. Discreetly, when you can, make copies of documents pertaining to finances, including pay stubs, records of any loans, credit card statements, bank records, and retirement savings records. Your child support lawyer will need these to help protect you financially. This may be the ideal time to work on a new Will, and find a lawyer to draw up a Will. To make sure everything stays confidential, obtain a cell phone that is not part of your family’s plan, and create an email account that your spouse cannot access.
- Social Media “diet.” Put yourself on a social media “diet.” Post less and more discreetly to social media, because it is easy to make a mistake that can cost you in your divorce or custody case. Do not mention your divorce or custody case on social media, belittle your spouse, or complain about your domestic situation. Ask yourself: “How does this Social Media post reflect on me as a parent?” In general, the less posted is better while you are going through a divorce or child custody litigation.
- Establish legal counsel. If you are contemplating divorce, it is never too soon to establish your legal counsel. Law offices may be closed, but lawyers will certainly take or return your call. Now is the time to place in your lawyer’s hands the documents you have collected and recorded. If you have a specific question about your situation, schedule a free consultation with an experienced legal team. This, can be done electronically (ie., by telephone, Facetime, skype, Zoom or the like) until the COVID-19 crisis is behind us.