• Arthur D. Ettinger

Married in the Backyard, Divorced in the Living Room

Covid 19, what HASN’T it touched?



The way we live and work, how (or if) we socialize, our “pods” (who ever had a pod anyway before March 2020!), our kids’ education and, yes, our relationships.


Like everything else, love and romance were not immune to the impact of Covid. Some relationships flourished and became even stronger. In others, cracks began to appear and underlying tensions that were often hidden by busy (separate lives) and minimal time spent together, rose to the surface.


The media is full of stories about couples having small weddings in their backyard, the number of people attending in-person restricted to close family and friends, and everyone else participating by Zoom. The promise of a big party somewhere in the future makes any disappointment about having such a small ceremony a bit more palatable but in any case, there really is no choice.


As expected, there’s less media coverage about the couples that have decided to end their relationship and get divorced, a decision that in some cases was precipitated by Covid, but might have also been in the works for years with the extra strain of a Covid-induced quarantine being the final straw.


Now what? Can you get divorced in a court now? The quick answer is yes. While courts are back open, the process just “looks” different. Court appearances are, for the most part, virtual. And, while COVID does not help an already inundated and backlogged docket, judges are hearing cases, albeit virtually.


What does that really mean? In essence, courts are moving their matters forward, but instead of appearing in a courtroom, we (the parties, the lawyers and the judge) are each appearing in a 2-inch box on a screen using a Zoom or Skype like application (the actual application varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In New York, most use Microsoft Teams).


With a virtual process and most couples still working from home, the dilemma of privacy becomes a major concern amongst litigants and their lawyers. Finding privacy to speak candidly is a great challenge, especially in close quarters, with children in ear shot attending school remotely and spouses sitting on the other side of “the wall” listening in on conversations.


It is important for people going through the divorce process now to be able to find time for themselves, not only for self-care, but to focus on dealing with the demands of a divorce. For example, it is important to find a safe, private place to attend virtual court proceedings, gather financial documents, communicate with professionals and advisors – all out of ear shot of the other spouse and the children.


Divorce is stressful as it is. Now telling people they can’t leave their home, go to work, take a vacation, etc, -- all while going through a divorce -- the stress can become unbearable. This is particularly true with divorcing parents that now have to manage remote learning with their children. Divorce lawyers will often tell clients going through the divorce process to see a therapist to manage the stressful situation. How can that client candidly share with his/her therapist when their spouse is listening in on the telehealth session?


Certainly, this puts a lot of strain on already stressful situation. However, there are also some benefits of our new normal in the divorce process. For example, before virtual court appearances, most appearances were like cattle calls, with all cases being scheduled at the same time. As a result, litigants and lawyers were often forced to wait hours before being heard by the Court. The client was charged by his/her lawyer for such wait time. Almost all virtual appearances now are time certain. This not only makes the matters more efficient, but it also keeps legal fees down. Clients also no longer have to incur lawyer travel time costs.


At this point, the world seems to be getting closer to normal. More and more are being vaccinated. Restaurants are almost at full capacity. People are slowly returning to work. However, if you are going through a divorce and you are still stuck living with your soon to be ex and are both working from home, here are some tips to follow to help you get through the process:


1. Limit Your Comunication

Setting boundaries on what you will discuss and when your conversations will take place is the best way to make this stage of the divorce process as painless as possible. Make certain to keep your emotions out of ALL conversations and focus only on the facts. I understand this is no small task. However, it is key. I always tell my clients that live with their spouse during the divorce process to act like two ships passing in the night.


2. Do Not Discuss the Divorce in Front of Your Children

Divorce can be frightening and stressful for children of all ages and this holds true even if the divorce is amicable. Children want their household to be harmonious. They may also feel guilty about the breakup, thinking that in some way, they were the cause of the divorce. It’s best to have any conversation about the divorce when the children are not in the vicinity and remember, kids are amazing at “overhearing” conversations that were meant to be private!


3. Take Walks

For many people, one of the few positives stemming from the Covid pandemic has been a new-found appreciation for being outdoors. Whether you are an avid runner or consider a walk across the room to be your exercise for the day, or somewhere in-between, go outside for a short or long walk is a great way to get exercise, clear your mind, listen to music or podcasts, or simply enjoy time alone or with a friend.


4. Visit Friends

Getting divorced is painful and it shouldn’t be a time when you try to “go it alone.” Your friends can help to boost your spirits and offer comfort when everything seems bleak. Visit your friends on Zoom, FaceTime, or in-person and “let them in.” Don’t try to be strong when support and comfort are what you need.


You need to remember, while it may be difficult and challenging to live with your spouse during the divorce process, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. This arrangement, while not ideal, is a temporary one. You will eventually have your own space and you will “come out the other side” to begin the next chapter of your life.



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LEGAL UPDATES & BLOG FROM ARTHUR D. ETTINGER 

& GREENSPOON MARDER'S NEW YORK MATRIMONIAL AND FAMILY LAW GROUP