Isolation and lockdown can do damage to some relationships. When the lockdown was lifted in China, the country saw a spike in the number of divorces filed. Separations are never easy, but the global pandemic has added a layer of complexity to the process. Georgia Swan, a Tax and Estate Planner with TD Wealth, joins Kim Parlee to talk about how separations and divorces are proceeding during COVID-19.
- For some couples, isolation and lockdown have not helped their relationship. In fact, when the lockdown was lifted in China, the country saw a spike in the number of divorces that were filed. And divorces are never easy. But COVID-19 has added an extra layer of complexity to the process.
Georgia Swan is a tax estate planner with TD Wealth. She joins us from Barrie, Ontario, for this Ask MoneyTalk. And Georgia, the question is, my partner and I have decided to split up. Can I get a divorce during COVID-19?
- Absolutely. There's really nothing about the pandemic that should stop you from proceeding if you've really decided that this is the end of your marriage. As a matter of fact, it's understandable. If you ask anecdotally, lawyers, they'll always tell you that the busiest day of the year is always the first Monday after the new year, because the idea is that the stresses of the holidays often will create a situation where people will decide that it's no longer what they want to continue. So there are ways to get a divorce even through this situation.
- Now, the courts are, though, closed, are they not?
- Well, in some provinces, they are. But they're starting to reopen. Even in Ontario, actually, beginning in early July, they're going to start a slow phased-in reopening where I think up to about 18 courts are going to open at first. But even throughout this, the courts have done what they can to keep going. There have been virtual settlement conferences where judges will sit with parties and try to work through some problems. And certainly if there are emergency issues like family violence or child protection issues, those have continued throughout this-- throughout the lockdown.
- One thing that might be challenging or a complication, of course, is that part of the reason some of this is happening, as we talked about, are people are living in close quarters. But by the very fact they're living in close quarters, privacy is hard. So how do you-- those conversations might be tricky, too.
- Well, that's true. You do have to get creative. All of the lawyers have been working throughout this entire pandemic, and they've gotten very creative using virtual means, telephone conferences, all that sort of technology that's available to try to be able to have conversations and meetings with their clients.
Most law offices are still open, as well. So if a meeting has to take place in private and you cannot find a time or a place in your home where you can call a lawyer and have that private telephone conversation or virtual meeting, then you can go into a lawyer's office and they've put in place physical distancing measures and everything. So as long as you can meet across a boardroom table, you can still be served.
- Is there anything-- is there anything positive-- and I use that word, and I'm kind of cringing when I say the word "positive"-- in terms of going through a divorce during a pandemic? Because neither one of those are positive.
- You know what, now that the courts are-- it's been a little bit more difficult to get in front of a judge. It's actually forced clients, or the parties, I guess, and the lawyers into a situation where you have no choice but to talk and try to negotiate something and try to work something out, because you can't easily run to a court and stand in front of a judge and say, OK, Your Honor, you decide.
So that's been a positive step, I think, for some clients, because they've realized they have no choice but to try to work things out. And doing that, of course, saves money and sometimes can even save the relationship on a go-forward basis-- not in terms of the fact that they'll stop from getting a divorce, but you still may have to have a connection with this person. So if you can work things out in a settlement manner, it's always best, I think.
- And what about if a couple was, say, partway through a process, maybe going through mediation or something like that? I mean, I'm assuming that's something that usually happens with someone who is a mediator, and that's tougher in this environment too.
- It's tougher. Really, if you feel that, it feels strange to you to not be in the same room. But as you and I are talking virtually, that's exactly what's happening with mediations. You get everybody on the call, and you're all in your little squares, and you sit and you do the same type of work that you would have done if you were all sitting in a boardroom.
The only difference is that sometimes when you're doing mediation, if you have to step out and you have to just speak to your lawyer alone, that's a little harder when you're on a Skype call. You can't close off two people so they can talk and then come back. But the lawyers and the mediators and everyone within the system has been really working hard to find ways to make this work. So if you're in the middle, you didn't need to stop. You can still proceed because there are ways to do it.
- Georgia, thanks so much.
- Thank you.
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