What Do You Need to Know About Divorce in 2021?
2020 was a challenging year for many. We had to find new approaches to adapt to different ways of living within our jobs, social groups, and families. For some, these adjustments included spending more time at home, and may have led to the tough realization that it is time to separate from your significant other. Contemplating divorce at any time, but especially during a pandemic, can seem overwhelming. If you are preparing to separate and divorce in 2021 and have not obtained an attorney yet, now is the time to do so. It is important to know your options and how they might be impacted by the pandemic and your attorney can help you navigate what lies ahead. Here is what you can expect if you are faced with this decision as we ring in the New Year.
First, even with a vaccine on the horizon, for now people should be preparing to continue to cope with the impact of COVID-19 in the new year – at least for a while. The CDC and WHO project COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in 2021, though the extent is still uncertain. This likely means North Carolina will continue to limit large gatherings, enforce mask mandates, and recommend social distancing. In short, you will probably continue to spend a lot of time in close quarters with your spouse.
The logistics of an actual physical separation can be challenging, and for many have been further complicated by COVID-19. For example, before you can file for divorce, you must first be separated from your spouse for one year. Specifically, in North Carolina being separated requires that you live “separate and apart” for 1 year which means couples who are anticipating a split must reside in completely separate residences – not just separate rooms in the same house. While moving during a time of uncertainty may seem daunting, it is doable, and is a necessary first step in starting the divorce process.
Additionally, keep in mind that filing for divorce addresses only the dissolution of your marriage, but does not address any of the collateral issues related to your separation and divorce such as alimony, equitable distribution, child custody and child support. Some of those claims may also be impacted by whether or not a physical separation has yet occurred. It is important to work with your attorney to determine strategy and timing for addressing those additional issues.
For those who are more than ready to take the next steps and address the issues mentioned above, a concern for many at the beginning of the pandemic was the possible shutdown of government agencies, such as local courts. The good news is that despite an anticipated increase in COVID-19 cases, currently North Carolina’s courts plan to remain open in 2021 with precautions in place. This means you will be able to continue to address legal and logistical matters related to your separation and divorce. In 2020 we saw a shift to virtual proceedings, and there is a high likelihood that will continue into 2021. Last year many people also turned to Alternative Dispute Resolutions like mediation and arbitration to avoid the courtroom entirely and there is a good chance we will see more of that this year, as well. Not only will your attorney be able to advise you and keep you in the loop on any changes in Court procedures, you can also check the NC Courts website to see how each county may adapt its procedures as the pandemic continues to impact our communities.
Contemplating a major life decision takes courage, but the good news is that you do not have to walk this path alone. 2021 will likely bring new challenges but working with seasoned professionals can help you get started in the new year on the right foot – even in the midst of a pandemic. Prepare now to lay the foundation for the year ahead so you are ready to face whatever challenges may come your way. Take the first step and talk with a family law attorney who can help you navigate the legal process, while considering help from others such as counselors and financial advisers, too!