If the COVID-19 pandemic has made you consider divorce, you are not alone. With the many restrictions that governments and employers have mandated during the pandemic, you may have been spending more time than usual with your spouse. Stories of couples who have broken up due to quarantine, working from home together, or handling child care during the pandemic have made the news this year. If you are in this unfortunate situation, be sure to learn about your divorce rights under North Carolina law.
How Do You Divorce in North Carolina?
North Carolina is a “no-fault” divorce state. A judge can grant you a divorce without any showing of fault, bad faith, or wrongdoing in the marriage. To receive a divorce decree, you must show that you have been separated from your spouse for at least one year. Being separated means that you live separate and apart in different residences for a full year. You will need to demonstrate to the court the date that you first separated and show that you lived separate and apart.
Is It a Good Idea to Divorce During a Pandemic?
No one can answer the question of whether to get a divorce other than you and your spouse. You may decide to seek relationship counseling rather than separate. Alternatively, you may decide to spend some time living apart from each other. Be aware that if you reconcile after a few weeks or months, the year-long separation period stops. If you decide to separate again after the reconciliation, the separation period restarts from scratch. Keep in mind that “reconciliation” is not a neat definition under the law. What is considered a reconciliation is measured by the “totality of the circumstances,” or all of the circumstances of a particular case, rather than any one factor. It has been determined that isolated incidents of sexual intercourse is not considered a reconciliation, but those actions coupled with behavior that could be construed as being in a relationship with the other party may be found to be a reconciliation. Although this is not generally a point of contention, it is wise to keep note of events that could trigger an argument for an earlier or later separation date. Moreover, there are many challenges facing couples who decide to divorce during this uncertain time.
What Are Some of the Challenges of Divorcing Right Now?
During a pandemic, you might have trouble with the requirement to live separate and apart. Money may be tight, you may have trouble finding a new place to live, or you may have health concerns limiting your ability to carry on daily life without getting sick. Some couples may struggle with domestic violence or custody issues while spending so much time at home together. Others may have conflicts over their children attending in-person school or have different risk tolerances when attending group events or traveling. Because of the risk of COVID-19 transmission, even couples living apart have a chance of passing on the virus to each other, their children, or others in the community.
As a result, it is especially important to seek your own legal counsel (a different lawyer than your spouse uses) to protect your rights. A lawyer can help you craft a separation agreement governing the terms of your separation. Your lawyer can also advise on the financial and practical issues that could arise during the year-long period. If you are having domestic violence or custody issues, your lawyer can assist as well. During the pandemic, your separation agreement could include requirements to protect your family’s health and safety.
In addition, once you do meet the one-year separation requirement, you could run into court delays due to the pandemic. Although remote and video appearances are available, the pandemic and related safety restrictions have slowed the processing of divorces in North Carolina. As a result, it is especially important to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer to make sure that you meet all the requirements and have your paperwork in order. Doing so could speed up the resolution of your divorce case.
Confidentiality Concerns During the Pandemic
Finally, be aware of significant confidentiality concerns during the pandemic. If you are staying home most of the time while you communicate with your divorce lawyer, your spouse may have the opportunity to overhear or oversee these conversations. Your spouse may also gain access to your separate financial accounts or other sensitive items. Even if your divorce is completely amicable, your spouse could find information that would prejudice your divorce or custody case. Consider putting passwords on your computer and phone to protect the information on them, and you may want to take calls with your lawyer while outside the house. Ask your lawyer about other ways to protect your information and your confidential communications about the divorce.
Let New Direction Family Law Assist You
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying time for many people. If you are considering ending your marriage during this time, the team at New Direction Family Law is available today to answer your questions. We will help you understand your legal rights and work hard toward your best outcome. With decades of combined legal experience, our attorneys are knowledgeable, effective, and compassionate professionals. We proudly serve clients in Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 646-6561 to schedule a consultation, or visit us at our website.