Surviving Your Divorce During Coronavirus
Divorce is tricky at the best of times. Surviving Your Divorce During Coronavirus feels impossible. Very little seems certain as you navigate the divorce process and try to make sound decisions about your future. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, so this is far from the best of times.
It’s absolutely natural that all your fears and anxieties are bigger than ever, that life feels even more uncertain.
I’m not going to say don’t worry as that’s patronising and unhelpful – but I do want you to know that you’re not alone. In Surviving Your Divorce During Coronavirus we’ll cover some of the main ways Coronavirus may impact on your divorce.
Will my court dates go ahead?
Your divorce won’t stop because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The emotional rollercoaster you are on will continue, though you have some control over it (more on that later). The financial implications of separating from your ex are also likely to continue. As for the legal process, it will depend on how the judiciary is able to function during the next few weeks and months.
We don’t know when or if your planned court hearings will go ahead on their scheduled dates. The situation may change on a day-to-day basis. Here is a link to the general advice from HMCTS (Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service).
Should you feel it necessary to self-isolate in line with government advice, or if you have been diagnosed with Coronavirus, you can find out how to apply for an adjournment here.
What if I’ve not started proceedings yet?
If you’ve been thinking about divorce for a while the social implications of Coronavirus may bring things to a head. The media is already suggesting that self-isolation will lead to a spike in the divorce rate because of families being forced to spend time together, never mind the emotional and financial pressures of the situation.
If you’re seriously thinking about divorce stay calm and grounded. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s important. If you haven’t journaled before, consider doing it now. There is no magic formula to journaling, simply get yourself a notebook and pen, give yourself time alone (ideally around 20 minutes) and write privately, without censoring yourself. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can really help you get clarity and keep perspective. Do this every day if you can, and certainly once a week.
When you consider the strains in your relationship try to identify which ones are on-going, and which are stresses provoked by the Coronavirus. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater won’t serve you, so it is best to take time for yourself and consider your situation as calmly as possible. If you haven’t read it already, my book How To Be A Lady Who Leaves can support you in deciding whether it really is time to end your marriage.
How do I manage co-parenting?
On Friday 20th March 2020 our schools closed for the majority of our children. These trying and unprecedented times have become even more challenging for parents, particularly those going through separation and divorce.
As and when you need to discuss your co-parenting and childcare, stay calm and grounded. The courts, and I, support a child-centred approach to negotiating arrangements for children. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. If you are not in a high conflict situation it is wise for both of you to discuss what is in the children’s best interests. If you are in a high conflict situation, it is best to communicate through your lawyer.
The outbreak may mean you have new practical considerations. You may be inundated with offers of help with child care now that the schools are closed if your ex isn’t at work. Notice how you feel about this. You may be worried about the possibility that whilst in his care, the need to self-isolate occurs and you don’t see the children for a couple of weeks. You may be worried that this will be used as an excuse to manipulate you and the children. It could be that you accept the genuine need to self-isolate and you are freaking out at the thought of not seeing the children. Journaling can again help you process your feelings with all this. And you are welcome to book in a chat with me.
How do we keep communication about children calm?
Whether you are communicating directly or indirectly through parenting apps such as Our Family Wizard, email or Whatsapp, it’s time to start communicating about the coming months with your ex. If you are in a high conflict situation, you may still need to do this through your lawyer. Many lawyers are still working remotely from home and are able to take action on your behalf if necessary.
Focus on your children first. Focusing on the emotional welfare of your children will be the thing (if anything) that builds rapport with your ex. These are unprecedented times. Whilst your children should always be the priority, in reality, many people let their own emotions, wants and needs cloud their thinking. This is driven by fear, resentment, anger, grief and sadness. It’s understandable – no one is perfect. But now, more than ever, your children need both of you. They need to see you working together to support them emotionally and financially.
What if I don’t have as much money as before?
If you are a key worker you may still be working. Thank you, wholeheartedly, for the sterling work you are doing keeping us safe and functioning as much as we can.
If you aren’t a key worker, any number of things might be happening with your work. You may be working from home. You may have to negotiate work around children. It could be that you are at home without pay or have lost your job. You may be self employed and find your business is drying up. The financial uncertainty you were already feeling has just ramped up a notch.
What should you do if you are experiencing financial hardship? Firstly, before you seek extra financial support from your ex, ensure you are accessing as much government-funded support as you can. This may be through your employer or the benefits system. It is unclear, at the time of writing, how quickly this money will become available but do your research before you approach your ex for additional funds.
How do I talk to my ex about money?
If you do need to approach your ex about additional financial support, be clear about what you need and why. As ever, know your numbers! Explain the shortfall. Rather than launching into, “You need to give me xyz” which is unlikely to get you anything other than a shut down and a “no!”, be open and specific.
Asking questions lends itself to a conversation in a way that fear-based demands do not. Conversation starters such as:
“I’m really struggling at the moment because of xyz. How are things with you?” (listen and respond) or
“It seems that things are challenging for us both right now. I’m wondering what we can do to work together to support the family right now.”
…Are far more likely to encourage you to work collaboratively.
Remember, having enough money for everyone to live on is a concern of both of yours, as is childcare. Keep in mind that Surviving Your Divorce During Coronavirus is not something you need to face alone.
Can we have a divorce amnesty?
Can you collaborate? If you are in a high conflict situation this probably won’t be possible. High Conflict Personalities are already driven by fear and these fears will be escalating during these uncertain times. So be sensible. Be realistic about what your ex is like. Don’t allow a dream of working together to be an opportunity for your high conflict ex to manipulate you further.
If you and your ex can agree to put your differences aside and work together during this uncertainty do so. Sit down and make a plan. The plan doesn’t need to be about the divorce – it’s about coming up with ways of living that keep you all as secure as possible. But if you’ve previously made a divorce plan through working with me then you’ll know that your values are crucial to moving forward.
What’s important to you and your ex right now? I mean in terms of the Coronavirus, your health, the family home and finances? How can you work together to keep it together? Plan for the next six months. Pensions, house values, savings etc. are likely to adjust and re-adjust over the period so focus on what you can deal with. For the next few weeks, it’s likely to be day to day. If that’s all you can manage, that’s fine. Keep communication open and go with it. Surviving Your Divorce During Coronavirus will be easier if you are able to discuss concerns as they arise.
If you can’t agree details because the situation is changing all the time, at least get some joint values and principles on paper – for example: ‘We both pledge to follow government guidelines regarding social isolation, even if that means not having the children at our appointed times. We will use Skype/Facetime to stay connected if that happens’.
How do I stay connected?
In these uncertain times, it’s natural for many to seek the support and company of others yet we must now socially distance ourselves and even self-isolate. If you are home on your own or with children, you can feel lost and lonely. As from Friday evening, we can no longer seek solace in our favourite coffee shops or bars. We are all having to learn to do things differently, whether we are going through a divorce or not. We will all be living in a virtual world more if we want to connect with those we love.
One of the favourite aspects of my job is meeting clients in the real world. I do this on my Clarity Days and recently with the first Get Divorce Ready Live event. More Get Divorce Ready Live events will happen, but of course, not right now and I can’t say when, because nobody knows what will be happening over the coming weeks and months.
But that doesn’t mean connection will stop. I will still be available virtually, offering advice, support and community. Surviving Your Divorce During Coronavirus is easier when you know you have support.
Join me online!
Just like everyone else over the coming months, the way I work will need to adapt. Divorce will still happen. The media are predicting the year will end in both higher divorce AND birth rates as we are all forced to spend more time at home.
If you are already mid-divorce, you may see in the coming months a slowing down of court hearings as courts rationalise and focus on emergency applications but of course, your divorce will still continue.
Your emotional state will be crucial to how you deal all of it. Your emotions will also determine how you communicate with your ex, which can make all the difference in smoothing your path to divorce. Remember that fear is often expressed as anger. That fear may be yours or theirs. If you need support in grounding yourself or coming up with a strategy for dealing with challenging conversations, then book in a call with me.
On our initial call we can work out which of my online services would be most useful to you right now. You might join The Absolute Academy for peer support, and learning and guidance from me; book 1:1 on-line divorce coaching or enrol on the next round of Get Divorce Ready. Whatever your next step, remember you are not alone.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com