COVID has certainly hit New Jersey hard. Case totals were high during the spring of 2020 and now that the cold weather has returned, the COVID case numbers are back to record numbers.
One speculation was that with stay-at-home orders and limited ability to truly move around, that divorces would skyrocket during this pandemic. Associated with that, further speculation was that domestic violence (DV) would spike as well. Has that borne out in the numbers?
The NJ Superior Court publishes monthly reports about case statistics. The court year begins in July 2020 and the latest report published (***as of 7/1/21 and now updated in this post***) covers the full court year through June 2021. Here’s what it shows:
- Dissolution filings (divorces or dissolutions of civil unions) are actually down overall by 2%. However, that’s not the whole story. Dissolution cases are broken into new filings and re-opened cases (i.e. revisiting things like child custody and support). New filings are actually up 16% while re-opened cases are down 24%. So people are getting divorced during COVID at higher rates than the previous year. They are less likely to re-open an existing case, which is somewhat surprising. With “changed circumstances” rampant (people losing jobs/income and businesses), I would have guessed that these types of filings would be up. That’s what happened during the Great Recession.
- New filing dissolution case resolutions are down 6% from last year. There are over 21,600 active pending new dissolution cases, up 21% from last year. 2866 new dissolution cases are considered in backlog (out of standard for how long a case should be resolved), up 37% from last year. The cases aren’t moving towards resolution in large part because the courts were closed due to COVID.
- DV cases are actually down overall 2%. New filings are up 7% while re-opened cases are down 39%. New cases were down earlier in the court year, so perhaps more people now have other places they can go?
It appears that more divorces are heading into the court system but fewer are finalizing during COVID. This also means that the longer COVID closure of the court lasts (they are partially open as of September 2021), the longer your divorce might take if it is not uncontested.
So how do you get your divorce through quickly and inexpensively? If the divorce is uncontested then it can be granted without a formal hearing and court appearances (which are not happening because of COVID). I wrote a whole article about divorcing on the papers. A really good approach is to mediate your divorce then do the filing using the new no-appearance procedure. (I still recommend each side using an attorney for the actual filing.)
I have received more phone calls and emails inquiring about divorcing since COVID started. I am also performing more divorce mediations since March 2020. I am doing them via Zoom and that has worked well for me and my clients.
Please contact me to discuss how mediation can help you get divorced more quickly, less expensively, and with less stress (especially on children). I now do mediations via Zoom. While it is not as ideal as an in-person mediation, the risk is far less and it works. Many of my clients find it more convenient since they also do not have to travel to an in-person mediation.