it's over

The Awkward Zoom Divorce Is Here to Stay

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

In January 2021, almost a year after we’d started navigating the many unsettling realities of COVID-19, a surreal piece of pandemic-era iconography appeared: a screenshot of Mary-Kate Olsen finalizing her divorce from French banker Olivier Sarkozy on Zoom. Unlike most things the Olsens do, and despite the many expensive-looking black turtlenecks present, it was distinctly unglamorous. While other images of how the rich and famous were weathering this moment highlighted just how different they were from the rest of us, the Mary-Kate Zoom divorce felt bizarrely relatable.

Divorce, like everything else in 2020, first went remote out of necessity. But even now that it’s relatively safe for a bunch of people to share courtroom air, the Zoom divorce seems to be sticking around. People do them from the office, happy not to have to ask for a morning off. Others dial in from their cars, wrapping up a hearing in less time than it takes to pump gas. The same Zoom fumbles that plague our work meetings also happen on divorce hearings: technically challenged husbands messing around with their green-screen backgrounds, confused clerks starting to speak while on mute. Here are stories from four people for whom sorting out the legal end of their marriages on a video call proved surprisingly painless and almost mundane. (Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know if Mary-Kate felt the same way.)

My husband and I had been living in separate bedrooms for a couple of years. I sat him down one day and said, “It’s done. We’re getting divorced.” Two weeks later, COVID hit. Neither of us could move out. Finally, toward the end of November 2020, I called my son’s best friend’s mom, who’s an attorney. She said, “It’s really hard to set up these Zoom court dates, but I can do it in December.” It was the only opening for that year. I didn’t even ask if my spouse was available.

Our lawyer wanted to do a test run so there weren’t any glitches the day of the divorce. We did it one room apart from each other at home since, in the state of Florida, they wouldn’t allow us to join from the same computer. Next thing you know, my husband’s head is floating on a green screen of a tropical paradise. I was like, “You need to turn that off.” So he clicked something else, and now he’s in the solar system. His little head is just floating there with all the planets. The lawyer is saying, “You can’t do that.” He goes, “It’s fine.” And she goes, “It’s not fine. It’s disrespectful to the judge, and he will probably end the session. You have to promise me you’re not gonna do that.”

The real court date was at 9 a.m. The judge asked me five questions, and it was done by 9:14. There were no theatrics to it, which made it easier to deal with emotionally. Later that day, after my ex went to work, I got a text from him that said, “The Bee Gees documentary on HBO is very good.”
— Roberta, 57, flight attendant, Atlanta

I got divorced in June 2022. When they said Zoom was an option, I was like, Well what do I want to waste a whole day sitting in the courthouse for? I did the actual hearing at work. I have my own office, but it’s right near the door to the building, so periodically the UPS guy comes wandering in, and I really didn’t want someone wandering in in the middle of my divorce. My co-worker was on vacation, so I asked him if I could get divorced in his cubicle. I dressed up a little bit nicer with a blazer and a blouse instead of just a button-down.

I joined the Zoom and kept the volume on low, listening for when the bailiff called our number. It was definitely awkward to be sitting there while people were like, “She was cheating on me!” and “He stole all my money!” It made me grateful that my ex-husband and I were able to get through things quickly and amicably. He isn’t a terrible person, but he has a tendency to make things emotionally harder than they need to be, and we were married for almost 20 years. Being on Zoom allowed me to be calm and keep things professional. After about an hour and a half, they called our number. It took less than ten minutes.

Later that day, I met my brother, who’s a musician, at a wine bar where he does a thing every Tuesday. There was a local blues musician there who my brother knew, so I was talking to him. He said, “What’d you do today?” And I was like, “Actually, I got divorced.” He goes up to start doing his set, and a few songs in, I got up to go to the bathroom. While I’m in the bathroom, I hear my name over the microphone. He’s dedicating a song to me in honor of my divorce. I thought, Well, this will never happen to me again. — Stefanie, 44, social-media manager, Illinois

My ex-wife and I separated before the pandemic. All the mediation and paperwork were pretty much wrapped up, but we were still trying to sell our house. The closing date ended up being March 10, 2020, so obviously the timing didn’t work out. Eventually, in June, we got an opening for the hearing.

I was working from home in my sad divorced-guy apartment. The judge was an hour late. My ex-wife and I kept texting each other asking, “Are you sure we’re on the right call?” When he showed up, he had his robes on and he had a green screen behind him that looked like a photo of his office. The perspective was off, so it looked like he was this little judge sitting in a big chair. At one point, he had one of his clerks read something, and she started talking, and of course she was on mute. We started telling her, “You’re on mute!” And then she kind of goes toward her screen and suddenly it goes to black. So we sat there for a couple minutes until she came back up on the screen.

The process itself was less than ten minutes. I closed out of that window and kind of stared at the wall for a little bit and then just opened up a new tab and went back into my work systems and kept on going. With everything going on, my divorce was like a little blip. I didn’t get sad, I didn’t get happy, I was neutral. There was nothing to mark it as special. It was just, All right, I guess we’re divorced. — Josh, 41, corporate communications, Minneapolis

The day of my hearing, I was running through the Loop in Chicago after an appointment downtown. I miscalculated the timing, and I needed a quiet place to sit down. The first thing I found was a Dunkin.’ I sat down on my laptop with headphones and put myself on mute anytime I wasn’t talking because they were blasting Papa Roach and Rise Against. The whole thing took about ten minutes, just confirming with the judge that everything we had filed was true and no one disputed it. It was an uncontested divorce, we didn’t have any assets to split, and we already had a child-care plan.

My biggest regret is that I was running so far behind I just bought the quickest thing I could, which was a bottle of orange juice. I’m a big fan of good old-fashioned black coffee and a donut. — Emeline, 27, journalist, Chicago

The Awkward Zoom Divorce Is Here to Stay