COVID-19 and Divorce

Divorce is one of the most challenging things your family will face. It can be stressful, painful, and challenging. When you throw in a global pandemic, divorce can be even more difficult. But this isn't something you have to do on your own or even plan for on your own. We can help you have what we call a “successful” divorce.

COVID-19 has affected nearly every facet of life, from education and jobs to court proceedings and financial stability. In North Carolina, we've seen almost 195,000 cases of COVID and nearly 3,300 deaths. In Gaston and Cleveland Counties, we've seen nearly 7,000 cases. While life still goes on, the pandemic does mean that you'll need to plan for significant life changes.

How Will You Separate? 

North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state. For a divorce, or “absolute divorce” as North Carolina calls it, you don't have to show any reason for the divorce. The only grounds for divorce are: 

  • You have lived “separate and apart” for at least 12 months before divorcing; or
  • Incurable insanity of one spouse and living separate and apart for three consecutive years, including when you file the divorce petition.

See N.C.G.S. §§ 50-6, 50-5.1. One party must also live in North Carolina for at least six months before the divorce. See N.C.G.S. § 50-8. The state where you married does not matter. 

In most cases, living “separate and apart” in North Carolina means that you and your spouse live in two separate residences and that at least one of you intends for the separation to be permanent. There is no need to obtain a formal “separation” from a court to begin this period. While some couples may attempt to separate and still live in the same residence, there is a risk that the court won't grant your divorce because you haven't been living separate and apart for one year. In the age of COVID, social distancing, and quarantines, you and your spouse will need to plan before separating. If you do decide to stay in the same home, discuss your decision with your attorney.

You can also obtain a “divorce from bed and board” in North Carolina. This “divorce” doesn't legally end your marriage, but it is a way for you to obtain spousal or child support and protect your rights until you can get an absolute divorce. The grounds for a divorce from bed and board are:

  • Abandonment;
  • Being maliciously thrown out of the home;
  • Cruel treatment that endangers your life, including physical abuse;
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs;
  • Your spouse makes your life miserable, including emotional abuse; and

See N.C.G.S. § 50-7.

Make Contingency Plans

As part of your divorce or separation, you may have a visitation and custody agreement and spousal support. Or, you may have an agreement that outlines what expenses each of you will cover, such as the mortgage on your marital home or car payments. During a pandemic, it's a good idea to cooperate with your former partner and think about how you will handle disruptions to your visitation and monetary plans:

  • If one of you gets sick, consider adjusting your visitation plan. If a parent misses out on parenting time due to illness, can they make it up later with long weekends or an extra week or two of vacation? 
  • If your children end up in virtual school full or part-time, can one of you work from home and supervise the kids? 
  • If you need additional childcare due to school closures, can you split the cost or adjust your visitation plan to cut down on childcare needs?
  • If one of you faces a job loss, a layoff, or pay cut, how will you adjust spousal or child support payments or shared bills?

Stay in Communication

The best thing you can do to keep your divorce and separation civil during this stressful time is to be respectful and kind. Working together to solve challenging problems and learning to parent together is what is best for your children. Talk about how each of you will handle social distancing and quarantines. Will either of you allow friends in the home? Will you avoid crowded indoor locations or restaurants? While each of you will undoubtedly have different approaches to parenting during a pandemic, knowing what to expect from your co-parents will make you less anxious when your children aren't with you. 

Finally, if you are considering divorce, you should see an attorney to discuss your options and plan. We can help you prepare for the unexpected, plan for financial and emotional upheaval, and work to help you secure the best future possible for you and your family. At Caulder and Valentine, our focus is on giving our clients peace of mind and sound legal advice.