Getting a Divorce in a Pandemic

Posted on June 1, 2020

The COVID pandemic has turned life on its head for everyone. For everyone who was living through a family situation that needed to change before the pandemic, COVID has added an additional layer of difficulty and uncertainty. The normal legal process that we relied upon to help us change our family dynamics and situations has been upended. Although the courts are considered essential businesses, Bay area courts, including those in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo and Marin counties, have drastically cut back or suspended services entirely for non-emergency matters. As they gear up to reopen, there will be an unprecedented backlog.

At the same time, many people find themselves sheltering in place within destructive family dynamics that needed to change long before this crisis began. The San Francisco District Attorney’s victim services division saw a 60% increase in calls from domestic violence survivors in the first week of San Francisco’s shelter in place order.

You may be wondering whether now is the right time to seek legal help to make changes in your family life. Each individual family situation is different, but there are important things that you can do to protect yourself and your children during the COVID pandemic. Retaining intelligent and sensitive legal counsel is at the top of that list, especially now that the self-help offices of most family courts are shut down or have services severely curtailed. One of the most helpful things you can do in this time is speak with an attorney to find out how you can use this sheltering in place time to strategically and positively make changes in your family life.

In divorce cases, both parties have disclosure requirements, meaning that you will be required to disclose information regarding all assets and debts that you have information about. You will need to disclose certain information regarding your bank accounts, equity compensation plans, business interests, retirement plans, real estate interests, and credit cards, for example. Generally, in the beginning of a divorce case, doing the reconnaissance work to put these documents together can feel like a real imposition, as it requires focused attention and effort. There is no better time than when you are sheltering in place to collect information regarding assets and debts and your tax filing history.

While you’re sheltering in place, you can work with your attorney to begin collecting all the paperwork you will need to produce as part of the marital disclosure process, if you’re going through a divorce. We recommend talking to an attorney about your specific situation first because every case is different, but here are some examples of important tasks you can get done while you are at home.

  1. Take a detailed inventory of all your personal belongings, including clothing, jewelry, furniture and art.
  2. Find out the fair market value and total mileage of any vehicles shared during your marriage through car resale sites like Kelly Blue Book.
  3. Obtain complete copies of your and your spouse’s tax returns for the last three years.
  4. Collect recent paystub and income documents for the last three months.
  5. Collect as many years of bank statements from all accounts to which you have access, especially those in which you believe you have a separate property interest. Most banks do not keep statements older than seven years. If your marriage was longer than seven years, you may to need make a special request from the bank.
  6. If you plan to make a separate property claim for any of your assets during marriage, now is a great time to put together a complete record of statements from your date of marriage through date of separation, as you have the burden to prove your separate interest.
  7. Gather up your title documents for real estate assets or rental properties.

Contact our San Francisco divorce and family law office to guide you through the process of moving forward with your life at this complex time.