As stay-at-home orders and other stressors test marriages already on tenuous ground, partners seek clarity as they consider next steps.
by Jill Lupine

COVID-19 has altered nearly every aspect of human life. The majority of the American workforce, for example, now spends nearly every waking moment in the same place—ensconced at home—with the only difference between morning, noon, and night being the subtle changes of scenery brought about by moving from one room to the other. 
For some, spending more time at home to reduce the risk of contracting the virus has been a source of great comfort. For others, stay-at-home orders have only exacerbated states of stress and anxiety.
Married couples who may have been on less than steady ground prior to the pandemic have found the past year particularly difficult. These days, as these couples are stuck at home with no escape other than the occasional trip to the grocery store or the mailbox, they see that minor cracks in their relationships have turned into pronounced fissures, seemingly beyond repair. 
If and when someone gets to this point, it may be time to consider the next logical step: divorce. Attorneys such as Jeffrey A. Liebmann, a family law attorney based in Newtown, suggests speaking with two or more attorneys to find one who is not only capable, confident, and experienced, but also one who feels like “a good fit.” COVID-19 has made this experience more complex, but also more convenient. Most attorneys offer video conferencing in lieu of office visits to discuss options and potential paths forward, yet this can be a harrowing exercise for someone who is still mulling their options and not yet ready to make their intentions known to a partner. 
The act of speaking with an attorney, Liebmann adds, may help to confirm one’s desire to end a relationship with a partner. On the other hand, such a meeting may help a person realize that divorce may not be the best option after all, and that they may wish to try to not only salvage the marriage but also make it better. 
In recent months we spoke with a number of attorneys whose practices are rooted in divorce and other aspects of family law. They shared their perspective on issues such as the factors people need to consider before starting divorce proceedings, the importance of partnering with a seasoned and compassionate attorney, and how to move forward with confidence once they have made their decision. Following are select excerpts from those interviews. 

“Family law is a very collaborative process. In most family law cases, the client’s participation in the process is crucial. Attorneys need to understand a client’s personal information, life, finances, and children; we want and need clients to be part of the process. It’s important for them to understand what’s going on so they can be involved in every part of the decision-making process. The clients who tend to struggle most are the ones who ‘bury their head in the sand.’ Part of our job is to inform and help clients feel empowered. Some people may not have been the decisionmaker in their previous life and find the responsibility uncomfortable. Part of the process is teaching that client that he or she is capable of doing their own work—deciding where to live, whether to keep a home, making the difficult or heartbreaking decisions.”
—Christina M. DeMatteo, The Law Office of Christina M. DeMatteo LLC, Blue Bell

“A lot of lawyers can get caught up in winning small issues, and sometimes winning a small issue is to the detriment of the larger picture. Shoot for winning the war, not the battle; see the forest for the trees. Some lawyers, because of their competitive nature, will push something even though a client doesn’t think it’s an issue. … I ultimately do what a client wants after we discuss the risks and consequences of their position. I will fight for a client if he or she says, ‘I want to risk it.’ That said, I won’t sacrifice my reputation with the court on a position that’s just beyond. The courts look very askance at extreme unreasonableness, and my credibility with the court is what my clients need and want.”
—Anne Funge, Funge Family Law LLC, Radnor

“People are more fearful right now; there is much more uncertainty about their future. … Overall, the biggest mistake that people make during family law matters is that they let emotion cloud their judgment, which is understandable under the current uncertain circumstances. It is the job of your family law attorney to make sure that every decision is based on fact, and not on emotion.”
—Jeffrey A. Liebmann, Liebmann Family Law, Newtown
“Many families are now all home together, and people are trying to balance work and school and fears of cut hours or total job loss. Finances might be an issue for the first time. There are whole new areas that have never been dealt with before. … Everything that used to be natural is now a thought process. Do I let my children play with friends? Is it even safe to go out of the house? Do I travel? How do I handle the holidays? People are questioning everything. … The best time for a client to contact me is as soon as possible when they are considering divorce or custody. If someone gets served with support, he or she should contact me quickly.”
—Sheryl R. Rentz, The Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, Ardmore

“Mediation, versus litigation, is a better way for clients to achieve some kind of justice and feel as if they’re able to participate in the process. This is rather than having litigation or someone else decide a family’s fate. … A good mediator has to have the capacity to understand the perspective of each party’s reality and the ability to reflect this understanding to all parties involved. Mediation is a great tool to resolve any type of dispute but is especially helpful in the area of family law. Simply stated, families do not belong in court, if at all possible.”
—Susan J. Sacchetta, Platt, DiGiorgio & DiFabio, Paoli

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, February 2021.