Online divorce in Illinois offers alternative for couples splitting up during coronavirus pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Couples deciding to divorce during the COVID-19 pandemic are doing so virtually.

Most civil courts are closed for business unless it's an emergency, which means most divorce proceedings now happen online. Virtual divorce is allowing people to split up without leaving home.

"I didn't have to go downtown, look for parking or pay for parking. It was really convenient," a local divorcee told Jason Knowles. He asked that his name not be used, but shared his experience about his virtual divorce proceeding, during the pandemic.

"It was good because you didn't have to be in the same room with people you didn't want to; actually a positive experience," he said.

However, he said there were downsides,

"The privacy issue was kind of weird for us, typically I'm able to talk to my attorney in private when I need to," he said.

"When we have been doing video conferencing court appearances, everybody is in their own separate location," said Tracy Rizzo, the divorcee's attorney. "So I am not able to have a private moment with my client and ask the judge to take a recess or to lean over and ask my client a question. Everyone can see and hear the whole proceeding together."

But the loss of privacy may be worth it, according to divorce attorney Joe Napoli.

"You can actually get divorced from your living room," Napoli said.

That can cut down on the drama that often comes with a split.

"I think it depends on what side you are on. Certainly a lot of the antics are going to be taken away. The theatrics, the theatre, you are not going to have via Zoom," said Napoli, who is embracing the technology as his clients split up via video conference. "There is a new trend, there is a new normal. That is virtual divorce which is being conducted similar to how our conversation is going which is via Zoom, or alternatively, telephone."

The process starts by filing online. Then, Napoli said, the judge decides if they should conduct depositions and eventually court proceedings virtually.

"Right now, it is at the judge's discretion of how they are going to conduct a hearing," he said. "I don't know if it would be ideal in a messy divorce."
Both Napoli and Rizzo believe divorce rates could increase as couples shelter in place.

"People are reevaluating their life as to whether or not they want to live in an unhappy situation," Rizzo said.

"I think people are going to call divorce lawyers when this pandemic is over," Napoli added.

"One piece of advice I have is don't make decisions in the middle of the pandemic. You might change your mind," said Sara Schwarzbaum, a couples' counselor in Chicago,

Schwarzbaum said that if you can, first seek a qualified marriage counselor and talk about the problems which may be able to be fixed,

"The best way right now is to communicate, communicate, communicate. Ask kindly what you need, ask for help. Manage expectations," she said.

Schwarzbaum added that many couples are doing better than ever, with more time to connect and appreciate each other.

If you and your attorney feel strongly about conducting the divorce in person and you're being told you have to do it virtually, you may just have put proceedings on hold.
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