Divorce Law Monitor

Coronavirus and Divorce

March 2, 2020


Seems you can’t log on to social media, read a news headline or flip on the television these days without hearing about the coronavirus.  The Center for Disease Control has warned Americans to prepare for an outbreak, large cities (including San Francisco) have declared emergencies before even one confirmed case, and the World Health Organization is on the verge of declaring the coronavirus a pandemic, which is a disease found on more than one continent that spreads frequently between people.  As a result of fears related to the Coronavirus, global markets have been hit hard, and in the last few days, the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 have been decimated, erasing all 2020 gains.  According to the New York Times, flights on Chinese airlines are selling for less than a cup of coffee.

So how does this all relate to divorce?  Well, asset division is a major component of divorce.  In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, dividing assets is a three-step process. First, it must be determined whether the asset is part of the marital estate, next the asset must be valued, and finally, the asset must be divided.  As fears relating to the coronavirus have crippled the global economy, the value of some assets may have changed significantly.  Specific examples include:

  1. Any foreign real estate located in China, or other areas hard hit by the virus, including Hong Kong and Macau.
  2. Business interests connected with the far east and southeast Asia, including airlines, cruise ships, tourism, and businesses importing and exporting goods from China.
  3.  Investable assets, including retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, etc.

Given the potentially significant decrease in the value of these asset categories, negotiations in divorce matters that include such assets should be re-examined.  This may include obtaining updated appraisals, obtaining updated business valuations, and/or recalculating transfer amounts from one spouse to the other. This may also include completely reconfiguring a settlement to account for the sharp drop in asset values.

Another important component of divorce is traveling during parenting time with the children.  As I discussed in one of my previous posts, it is generally important to provide travel information and itineraries to the other parent as soon as possible when traveling with the children, especially when traveling internationally.  If a parent’s proposed travel plans include taking the children to a country significantly impacted by the outbreak, it may be prudent to seek redress from the Court to prevent such travel.

It remains to be seen how the coronavirus will ultimately impact the health of the U.S. population and what lasting effects it will have on the world, but there can be no doubt that it has had an impact and this should be considered for purposes of divorce.

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