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 2/3/21 and now updated in this post***) covers through December 2020. Here’s what it shows:
- Dissolution filings (divorces or dissolutions of civil unions) are actually down overall by 15%. 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 3% while re-opened cases are down 36%. 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 13% from last year. There are over 17,800 active pending new dissolution cases, up 33% from last year. 2674 new dissolution cases are considered in backlog (out of standard for how long a case should be resolved), up 164% from last year. The cases aren’t moving towards resolution in large part because the courts are closed due to COVID.
- DV cases are actually down, both in new filings (6%) and re-opened cases (57%). So either people are not being as violent or they are not reporting the cases that are happening. The latter could be the case if they have nowhere else to go or are afraid to report cases.
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, 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.
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.