Covid divorces are on the slow track.
Divorce has often been time-consuming and expensive — one survey in the United States found the average cost was $12,900 — but now once-routine parts of the proceedings, like getting a document notarized, can require heroic effort. Moving out is also fraught, especially in Los Angeles and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, where real estate prices have risen — you may have one spouse wanting to keep the house but unable to afford to buy the other out. In New York City, where prices have plummeted, no one wants to sell the $6 million apartment when it has to be listed at $3 million, as is the case for one of Ms. Chemtob’s clients.
For a lot of wealthy New Yorkers seeking divorces, there is much fighting about the vacation home, where many families have been ensconced for months. In one of the lawyer Harriet Newman Cohen’s cases, a couple spent thousands of dollars fighting over a court order that would seal off the master bedroom in their Hamptons home so the husband couldn’t spend the night there with his girlfriend when it was his turn to see the kids.
“He wouldn’t say, ‘I won’t go in there,’ so it had to be locked off,” said Ms. Cohen, whose clients have included Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.
Delays can be more costly.
In addition to the mental toll of the waiting game, coronavirus-related delays can also add to the bill.
Jessica Wilbur, 36, of Frankfort, Maine., first filed for divorce in March 2019. The trial was rescheduled twice: First, because the courts closed for the pandemic, and again because a lawyer had possibly been exposed to the virus. Although the trial finally happened in October, she didn’t get her orders until mid-December because the judge was so backed up. The delays, Ms. Wilbur said, cost her thousands of dollars, both because she and her lawyer had to prepare for court each time, and because more issues would arise with her husband of 12 years in the interim. The divorce is still not final.
Lawyers acknowledge that although there is rarely travel time or time spent waiting around court for clients to pay for these days (almost everything is virtual and by appointment), this is offset by other costs, like hours waiting outside courthouses to file a case the electronic system won’t accept.
So many documents.
Then there’s that document notarizing, something once so simple a lawyer could do it while waiting with a client at court. Now, if clients don’t want to do it in person, it requires, at least in some states, video calls along with the document being sent back and forth via snail mail or delivery service.