Traditionally, the back-to-school season has also been a time of year during which many spouses file for divorce. With the kids out of the house, parents have more time to themselves, and closing the books on yet another unfulfilling summer break brings many spouses to the realization that it is time to bring their marriage to an end.
But, it’s 2020, and at the moment almost nothing is traditional. In many families, both spouses are home—either working remotely or unemployed—and many children in Illinois are starting the 2020-2021 school year remotely as well. So, if you are contemplating a divorce, what unique factors do you need to consider in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what steps can (and should) you take in order to limit the effects of going through a divorce on your children?
1. The COVID-19 Pandemic Will Directly Impact Some Aspects of the Divorce Process
First, it is worth acknowledging that COVID-19 probably will impact your divorce. It won’t necessarily impact the substance of your divorce—although employment-related issues could impact your (or your spouse’s) right to alimony—but it may impact the procedural aspects of your divorce filing. When the Illinois courts largely ceased operations in the early stages of the pandemic, this created a huge backlog that is expected to impact pending and newly-filed cases for the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, if you need to file for divorce, you should not be dissuaded from starting the process. Most aspects of the process can be handled out of court, and “getting in line” with the court will ensure that you are able to finalize your divorce as soon as possible. In May, we published an article titled, Can You File for Divorce in Illinois During the COVID-19 Pandemic? that covers these and other issues in detail.
2. When Going Through a Divorce, Both Spouses Need Privacy
If you and your spouse are both homes during the day, this may present some practical challenges when it comes to protecting your privacy during the divorce process. Both spouses need to be able to speak with their attorneys and weigh their options in confidence, and this means that both spouses will need to respect one another’s privacy during the divorce process.
This isn’t necessarily about keeping “secrets” from one another (in fact, the divorce process works best when both spouses are willing to openly share information and pursue a mutually-agreeable outcome in good faith), but rather about acknowledging that both spouses need to make informed decisions based on their attorneys’ advice and without undue influence or bias. If your spouse and/or your children are at home with you because of COVID-19, it will be important for you to work with an attorney to figure out a solution that allows you to remain present in your children’s lives while also handling issues related to your divorce in privacy.
3. Children Need to Find Out About Their Parents’ Divorce at the Right Time and in the Right Way
While it will be important for your children to know that their parents are getting divorced, it will also be important for them to find out at the right time and in the right way. The last thing you want is for your children to learn about your divorce by overhearing you talking on the phone or with your spouse, or by finding divorce papers in your bedroom or home office.
If your children are going to school remotely, it will be particularly important to make sure that you approach your divorce in such a way that you can control how and when they learn about your plans. Once you tell your children, you can also set expectations for having private conversations with your attorney and with your spouse while your children are at home learning. Children of different ages need different information and will respond to learning about their parents’ divorce differently. These articles from Parents and Today’s Parent provide some practical tips, but you should hesitate to seek professional help if desired:
- How to Tell Kids About Divorce: An Age-by-Age Guide
- Age-by-Age Guide on the Effects of Divorce on Children
4. To the Extent Possible, Parents Should Handle Their Divorce Outside of Their Children’s Presence
Even once you tell your children about your plans, you should still continue to handle your divorce outside of their presence. While parents should certainly consider how their divorce will impact their children, they must also be careful not to involve their children in the divorce process. Your children’s wishes may be relevant when it comes to allocating parenting time, but seeking their input is something that needs to be done carefully and with professional advice.
If you can speak with your attorney over the phone and maintain a private workspace while your children are home remote learning, you can certainly handle aspects of your divorce during the day and as they fit with your family schedule. But, if this is not feasible given your current home environment, then you will need to figure out a good way to work on your divorce in private. Many parents are struggling with these types of issues, and your attorney should be able to help you come up with a workable solution.
5. An Agreed Divorce May Be a Good Option During This Time
Finally, given the unique challenges all of us are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, pursuing an agreed divorce may be a particularly good option during this time. You will still need your privacy, and you will still need to prioritize limiting the impacts on your children, but an agreed divorce can minimize the stress and emotional impacts for everyone involved.
Discuss Your Divorce with Gurnee, IL Family Lawyer Deanna J. Bowen
If you are thinking about filing for divorce during the 2020-2021 school year, Gurnee, IL family lawyer Deanna J. Bowen can help you find a workable solution. To learn more in a free and confidential consultation, call us at 847-623-4002 today.