The jokes are viral: “Mexico had its first coronavirus related death. A man was stuck at home with his wife for 10 days, so he killed himself.” While morbid and perhaps in bad taste, but as in most comedy, there is an ounce of truth.
As the founder of a family law firm with 15 lawyers handling a significant amount of divorce, Randy Kessler is seeing his share of increased tension and concern.
“The closing of the courts, which typically provide access to justice to rectify parenting time disputes and to enforce child-support, is just the tip of the iceberg. People who have tolerable, but not good relationships often pay the price in crisis situations because the parties usually have other interests outside of the home that sustain them.
“Now when they spend more time at home, relationships suffer. And the uncertainty about the future, the health of the family, the financial future, is absolutely causing stress. In my experience, added stress increases the possibilities of marital discord.”
Kessler relates this to patterns after 9/11 and Katrina. And while many legal situations have become more difficult, family law perhaps is suffering the most. People who are stuck in the same home do not have the ability to talk on the phone candidly and privately with their divorce counsel or even their friends about their situation, since the opposing party may be sitting right next to them. The most difficult aspect may be the inability to talk to someone who can reassure you such as a lawyer, therapist or friend, he said.
“It’s akin to another cliché about the angry person who comes home and kicks the dog. When people are mad about things in the world, they express that at home, which can damage the relationship. When people are angry, they want to blame something or someone. Often the roommate or spouse is the target.”
Since the pandemic in the U.S. started in China, the divorce rates are on the increase there.
A March 14 article in “The Week” magazine, “Coronavirus Driving Divorce Rate Up in China” reports that in one province Dazhou, Sichuan, in Southwest China, in the past three weeks, there have been 300 applications for divorce. Some sources in the article say it is virus-circumstance driven, others note it could be a backlog in filings since the government offices were obviously closed recently.
Kessler noted, “I’ve already seen it start here and fielded calls from people whose home lives have deteriorated rapidly and significantly. We are bracing for and expecting a significant uptick in divorce filings and have arranged for our entire office to be able to work remotely.” Fortunately, in today’s legal system, most things can be done electronically and digitally and virtually. Courts are allowing virtual appearances, depositions can be taken telephonically, and cases and motions can be filed electronically without a personal trip to the courthouse.
Amy Woodyatt reported March 13 on CNN World, “Lights, camera, legal action! Courts to livestream divorce proceedings,” about how legal proceedings in London are broadcast on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Kessler hopes that good lawyers will know their opposing counsel and work cooperatively to ensure a tolerable status quo because the family will benefit from reduced acrimony. Compromise will be needed now more than ever, on both sides, he said.
Also, good lawyers should reassure their clients that things will return to normal. “In fact, this is what we do most days anyway. People going through divorce or other family law disputes are often experiencing a sense that their world has been turned upside down and will never be the same. As divorce lawyers, we’ve seen enough to know that people can and will bounce back. Tomorrow does come and that is often part of our advice and guidance and counsel, and such advice should help people in this uncertain time. It is what we’ve trained for and it is what we do.”
“We must all do our best to restore hope and ensure that tomorrow will come and there will be a return to normalcy. It may be a “new normal,” but life will go on and the world will continue to offer many blessings and joyous occasions. Of this I am certain,” Kessler concludes on an inspirational note.