Work and homelife can combine for fear and tension during these uncertain times. Such tensions can heighten marital discord (or worsen that which already existed). Unfortunately, increases in divorce seem imminent. How does one deal with the breakup of a marriage during COVID-19? Or, should you do a Prenuptial Agreement?
If children are involved, minimize the disruption to them. If you can no longer reside with your spouse, consider alternate living arrangements comfortable for both you and your kids. Consider the distance between homes. Or, consider “birdnesting,” where children remain in the marital home and the parents alternate moving out (with each having their own home or sharing one since there is little to no overlap). Of course, sharing a home with your soon-to-be ex-spouse requires trust. Regardless, the benefit now is not needing such a large second residence, and not requiring a long-term commitment. However, birdnesting usually only works (if at all) in the short term. Consider the various child timesharing scenarios and how they match your work schedule.
Financial planning is also key. What obligations will exist during and after divorce? Will you be paying alimony? Speak with your financial advisor or CPA and have them run cash flow scenarios.
Speak with a qualified family law attorney. Consider their experience and credentials. Are they Board Certified and members of professional organizations? And, perhaps most importantly, are they accessible and responsive? For instance, at my law firm, a live person always answers calls, e-mails are flowing, and we meet with clients virtually via video services and telephone. Accessibility is key.
With your team, focus on your biggest asset and/or income source: Your medical practice. Are you an owner? If so, have your governing documents carefully looked at. Are there restrictions on sale or transfer? Equally important is the “goodwill” factor – in Florida, only business goodwill value can be shared with your spouse, while personal goodwill is not. Consider Kentucky Fried Chicken: If customers go there for Colonel Sanders, that’s personal goodwill (goodwill value not shared); if they go for the food or “restaurant,” that’s business goodwill (goodwill value shared). Goodwill is generally the value of the practice above its “book value” (e.g., hard assets minus liabilities). Would you be required to sign a non-compete agreement to a buyer? If so, this usually indicates personal goodwill (so excess value remaining with the owner alone). In a Prenuptial Agreement, you can plan ahead for current or future business interests and disposition of income if you ever get divorced.
Your income is relevant for alimony and child support. However, is your income suffering? If so, your ability to pay support will also be down.
Did you receive government assistance? Consider any tax implications and loss of forgiveness, as these could be marital liabilities, offsetting the equity which your spouse could share.
Plan smartly. Speak to your team from in privacy. Change passwords. Ensure that your e-mails and files cannot be monitored, and do not show up on other devices, such as a family computer or even a child’s iPad. Remember that cloud-based sharing services like iCloud and OneDrive can be linked across multiple devices. This includes photo sharing applications and messaging services!
Do your homework. Copy important financial records (your phone can be scanner). Download account statements. Likewise, inventory items of significant value, such as jewelry, artwork and collectibles. Include photos with date-stamps. Store everything in a secure location—whether printed or digitally. Even if you do not proceed with divorce, you will at least have a solid grasp on your finances.
Prenuptial (before marriage) and Postnuptial (during marriage) agreements govern the rights and responsibilities in the event of divorce. They can make divorce less contentious and financially draining. Likewise, mediation can help you avoid going to court. These are all things to discuss with your attorney.
This is a stressful time for everyone. Make sure you take the steps necessary to minimize the marital stress and unknowns so that you can continue to focus on your patients, your children, and most importantly, yourself.
Brian Karpf is a shareholder with Young, Berman, Karpf & Gonzalez in Fort Lauderdale. He is a Florida Bar board-certified divorce and family law lawyer and mediator.