Divorce and Coronavirus in Texas: Living with Uncertainty

Uncertainty seems to be the word of the day, month and year for 2020. We are so uncertain about so many different things that we barely know where to begin. For instance, we are obviously uncertain about to what extent the coronavirus is going to impact us moving forward. The general sense that I get from reading the newspapers, listening to the radio and watching television is that the virus is going to have a profound impact on our lives. That may well be. I’m certainly no expert on the matter. But, again, we are uncertain about the extent of that impact in terms of lives lost or any other metric. 

We are uncertain about the extent to which our economy is going to be impacted. Houston is a restaurant town so I like to measure the strength of our economy on how many new and interesting restaurants are popping up around town. The deck is stacked against small business owners and restaurants to begin with, but with the coronavirus weighing us down emotionally and financially many restaurants have had to shut down operations for good in the past few months. We see that chain restaurants and those that have the cash on hand to survive are doing just that. However, those businesses that survive on a month to month basis are likely on their way out. 

We are uncertain about our kids going back to school. Have you all gone online and looked at what some school districts are planning for the 2020-2021 school year? It looks like something out of a science fiction novel. Again, we don’t know what impact the virus is going to have when it is time for school to resume in the fall. We seem to know that children are pretty resilient against the virus compared to other age groups. The long term impact of the virus on our children’s social, behavioral and relational outlooks is yet to be seen. 

We are uncertain about our jobs and personal financial situations. Are we going to be able to pay rent or mortgage payments moving forward? Are we equipped to work from home on a prolonged or permanent basis? What are the consequences of that sort of dramatic shift? Are there problems or benefits that we are not even considering in relation to our working from home more often? Is your business going to survive an economic downturn? How stable is your job? 

You may also be uncertain about your marriage and family life? If your marriage was struggling to begin with how is it fairing right now? Do you have a plan to work things out with your spouse? Have you been able to communicate your thoughts and concerns or is the stress of being at home during the pandemic too much for you right now? It takes time and effort to heal a hurting marriage. You’ve got that time now (for better or worse) but are you equipped to deal with that problem in addition to any of the others that we have mentioned so far in this blog post?

Considering divorce during a time of pandemic

I want to be careful when it comes to discussing this pandemic. The word pandemic in and of itself is intimidating. Our brains immediately go towards worst case scenarios, scary movies and thoughts that we would prefer to not have to entertain right now. This is certainly a serious situation that we are dealing with. The response from state and local government officials has been serious. I think most of us take these threats seriously, as well. 

However, we need to balance the seriousness of the coronavirus against the rest of our lives and the events that were relevant to us before the coronavirus impacted us. If your marriage was struggling at the beginning of 2020 you have an opportunity to improve upon it. Or, through inaction, fear, hopelessness and apathy you have a chance to ensure that it continues to struggle. While you can’t impact too dramatically the direction that this disease takes you can dramatically impact the direction of your marriage. 

If you listen to conventional wisdom, things can only move in two directions in regard to your marriage or anything else for that matter. Those directions would be “getting better” or “getting worse.” Things don’t really stay the same as far as your marriage is concerned. We are either taking steps to better your relationship or are taking steps to worsen that relationship. Doing nothing, ignoring the problem and hoping that they go away is a step towards worsening the problems. 

You may be at a point where, at least in your mind, there is no direction to go besides toward divorce. This is, I hope you would agree, a worst case scenario and one that you should not consider unless every other possible alternative is tried. I wouldn’t agree with you that a divorce is inevitable. My thoughts are that while many times divorce is a viable option for some people, not everyone who is having marriage issues needs to get divorce

What you may need to do is that which feels most unnatural- working with a person with whom you may have deep seated emotional issues with. It may feel paradoxical to say this, but the person with whom you are closest in the world (your spouse) may be the very person that feel most distant from emotionally right now. Couple that feeling with the reality that you and your spouse may be sitting shoulder to shoulder right now and you may be in for a tough next few weeks and months. 

Getting a divorce is never easy- virus or no virus

Contrary to what your friends and neighbors have perhaps told you, getting a divorce is not easy. First and foremost, there are no overnight divorces in Texas. Texas law requires an at least sixty-day waiting period to get divorced. That means from the day you file your original petition for divorce with the court, the earliest that you can legally be divorced from your spouse is sixty days after that. The reason for this is that the state wants to give you every opportunity to think about what you are doing and to avoid getting a divorce if at all possible. If overnight divorces were the norm, I’m willing to bet we would have a whole lot more divorced people living among us. 

Some people talk about a divorce as if it were freeing and emotionally uplifting. You are able to free yourselves from a negative relationship and really focus on yourself and your needs. It is tempting to think this way. It is very modern to consider your needs instead of those of your spouse and family. However, I find that even people who were eager to get divorced often times walk out of a divorce with feelings that they were not prepared to deal with. Regret, anger, wistfulness and sadness often times come with divorce. 

The next thing that you need to consider is that getting a divorce is not a rubber stamp type process. Yes, Texas does have no fault divorces which means that if you want a divorce, file your divorce and follow the legal process you can get a divorce whether your spouse agrees to it or not. No fault divorce means that you do not have to specify and “fault grounds” for your divorce. You can instead argue that your marriage has failed due to irreconcilable differences with no hope to remedy them. 

However, filing for divorce, paying the fees, following the process, separating your life from your spouse’s, attending to matters related to your kids, dividing property and drafting a final order that incorporates all these entities is a tough thing to do. Many people try to file for divorce themselves without an attorney. You are fully able from a legal sense to do this. The problem comes in with your lack of experience and how much of a hinderance it will provide to you and your case. 

Imagine if you had to be out of work for a week and your boss asked you to find a replacement for you. That other person would need to step into your shoes and fill your role at the company. Any missteps would be counted against your record? If you couldn’t train that person how well do you think he or she would do with no experience? The answer is probably not that well. 

Essentially, that is exactly what you are asking of yourself in regard to your divorce. If you have no experience in matters related to divorce why would you expect yourself to do a “good” job? Could you get yourself divorced without an attorney? Depending on the circumstances of your case I would probably say, “yes.” Is it a good idea to try and get a divorce on your own? I would say almost universally the answer is, “no.”

The fact is that a judge is not going to grant your divorce any quicker or require less of your final orders just because you do not have an attorney. Likewise, if your spouse hires a lawyer and you do not there is no reason why a judge would feel sorry for you or go easy on you just because you have no representation. If you have children, a complicated financial situation or own a lot of property it would make all the sense in the world to hire a family law attorney for your divorce. Think of it as a short-term investment that could pay long term dividends. 

Should you stay or should you go?

This is the ultimate question that you need to ask yourself right now? Is it time for you to file for divorce or should you continue (or start) to work on your marriage? I don’t know your individual circumstances. I don’t know how hard you are willing to work on your relationship. I don’t know whether or not your spouse is willing to work with you. What I do know is that the benefits to divorce are fewer than the benefits to being in a functional, happy marriage. Whether or not you can see yours becoming that is a different question altogether. 

You can get divorced right now. The courts are, for the most part, closed to the public. Harris County has three courts that are open to family law matters. You may struggle to get a court date if you need one, but divorces that settle may never need to see the inside of a courtroom. Emergency matters can be heard by a judge so if your safety is at issue you will have that option to pursue. 

However, you should weigh the delays that your case may face due to the pandemic against what you can do with that time should you utilize it to care for your family and your marriage. This may seem like counterintuitive advice for an attorney to give, but I believe it to be true. You do not have to join the list of people you know who are getting divorced. You can pursue other options to save your marriage. They may make you feel uncomfortable, you may not smile throughout the process, but you have what it takes. If you try and can’t save your marriage, our office is here to help you- even in uncertain times. 

Questions about divorce and Texas family law? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about your circumstances, family law or our law practice please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week by phone and video. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback from our experienced family law advocates. Don’t let your circumstances intimidate you right now. You have what it takes to make a decision that is best for you and your family. If that decision leads you to contacting our office, we would be honored to help you. 

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