What if your divorce hearing’s deferred during the Coronavirus outbreak?
We’re entering the third week of lockdown in the UK due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and we’re all still adjusting. For some, this is a pause – a change in routine, a time to reflect. For others it’s a storm – a barrage of new challenges, children around 24/7, heightened anxiety about loved ones. We’re all coping as best we can. This is not a time to put pressure on ourselves. Your divorce may be the last thing on your mind but for many, their divorce was about to go to court. What if your divorce hearing’s deferred during Coronavirus?
As we cope, the courts are starting to adjust too. Resources are stretched and many of you will find your court date has been deferred. In What if your divorce hearing’s deferred during the Coronavirus outbreak? we look at what you can do if this happens to you.
Stay safe – check-in with your boundaries
Whatever stage you are in your divorce right now, it’s important to check your boundaries. Everything’s been thrown up in the air by coronavirus – people are conducting zoom meetings with potato head filters, children’s schooling is now happening on the sofa, you may well be reaching for the gin at 3 pm (and who can blame you?).
But boundaries keep you safe, and they also give everyone clarity. This is true in all situations, and it’s especially true when dealing with your ex. Even if you have a perfectly amicable relationship, you need to be clear where you stand, what’s ok and what isn’t. Boundaries aren’t you being difficult or fussy, they are simply a way of saying ‘this is what I need to be safe.’ You can find out more about creating boundaries in the blog Creating Boundaries in Your Divorce.
If your ex wants to put into place new arrangements you’re not happy with, for your children, for communication, or whatever else, then don’t be afraid of a firm no. This definitely applies to you if you’re in a high conflict situation.
Equally, you may find that you can do things differently while maintaining boundaries that feel ok. Spend some time just checking in to ensure you’ve got boundaries that work for you right now.
Be wise – what is best for you and your family now during Coronavirus?
Getting clear on your boundaries isn’t a power game, it’s not a reason for you to say no to everything your ex suggests. We are living in uncertain times, and we have to change with them. Just as we adapt to working from home, or socialising online, think about how you can be flexible in moving your divorce forward.
The courts may offer you an alternative date for your hearing and they may also suggest you investigate other resolutions methods – which we shall look at in a moment. What if your divorce hearing’s deferred during Coronavirus? Not one solution will be right for you all.
Think about whether these alternatives are right for you. This comes back to your boundaries, and your values. What’s most important to you right now? If you feel safe exploring an alternative to your court hearing, it may be that you can progress your divorce without too much delay, and even save money. You may decide it’s most important to stick to your original plan. There’s no right answer – as CEO of your divorce, it’s up to you. So, What if your divorce hearing’s deferred during the Coronavirus outbreak? Here are some options. Seek the advice of your lawyer if you want to know more.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
ADR is the name given to out of court methods for resolving divorce arrangements. When they work, they can be a more civilised, more cost-effective and more efficient way to reach agreement, and are also more likely to achieve an agreement both parties are happy with, compared with a decision imposed by a judge.
However, they do rely on a co-operative approach and they won’t work for everyone. They are not appropriate if you’re in a high conflict situation (keep reading if this is you as we will look at what you need to do later in the blog).
There are three main ADR approaches you could try:
Mediation involves you and your ex working with an impartial, trained mediator to come to an agreement you are both happy with. The mediator will then help you draw up an agreement for your solicitor to formalise and file with court. You do not need to appear in court.
Collaborative law is similar to mediation, however you and your ex would both have legal representation at all meetings. You would work together as a four to reach agreement, with the support of specialist lawyers throughout the process.
You and your ex would appoint an arbitrator, who would make a legally binding decision on your case based on evidence provided, much like a judge in court. The process is faster than going through the courts, and you can decide which issues the arbitrator resolves, so it is a more flexible process in a more informal setting.
Private Financial Dispute Hearings
If collaborative approaches aren’t going to work for you, you may want to consider a private FDR. You and your ex would pay for a legal financial specialist (often a retired judge) to hear your case. You can either self represent or instruct a solicitor to make representation for you. Just as through the courts, you would each present evidence and the judge would make recommendations on a settlement.
In a private FDR you can agree your meeting date and venue between yourselves. And the judge is usually available all day, increasing the likelihood of an agreement, without needed to head to the courts for a Final Hearing. So while you will still incur hearing costs, a speedy resolution is likely to save you money compared with going through the courts.
If you’re in a high conflict situation
Throughout this blog, I’ve talked about the need for both boundaries and flexibility. Wisdom is knowing what you’re able to be flexible with given your particular situation, and when you need to stick to your plan.
If you’re in a high conflict situation, if you’re ex has narcissistic tendencies, you need to be very clear on your boundaries. Collaborative approaches will not be right for you. Informal negotiations will not be right for you. They both give your ex too much flexibility to manipulate you and those involved in your case.
You will need to keep a record of all contact, both to and from your ex. I highly recommend using a tamper-proof tool like Our Family Wizard to help you with this. If you need to bring in more support to enforce your boundaries, do it. Don’t be afraid to get the police involved if need be, or to use your solicitor to reinforce your boundaries.
Make sure you get as much emotional support as you possibly can. Yes, we are all physically distancing, but that doesn’t mean you need to be socially isolated. Reach out to friends, counsellors, free helplines to talk through your situation as much as you need. You can also reach out to me – I am happy to support you in your emotional and legal decision-making on a 1-1 basis, or via my online community The Absolute Academy.
So what if your divorce hearings deferred during Coronavirus
Deferred divorce hearings can be used to your advantage. Get your ducks in a row. Reflect on what’s really important. Consider how your financial situation may have changed. Recognise any shift in priorities as they arise. Resist being the ostrich – keep your head above ground and be the meerkat. The meerkat is looking around surveying her surroundings, noticing changes and checking all is well. If your hearing is deferred its not a reason for you to forget your divorce. It’s a time for you to stay focused.
Support during the new normal and beyond
We’re all adjusting to this, and life is going on. You don’t have to navigate the new normal alone, and you don’t have to put your life, or your divorce, entirely on hold. Even if your court date has been delayed you can use this time to get ready, to get your paperwork together, to work through emotional issues and to reflect on what’s important to you as you look ahead to life after divorce.
The Absolute Academy is full of women doing just that. With my professional support, they are getting on with their divorces their way, at their own pace, looking out for each other, and actually having some fun and feeling better in the process. It’s all online, and I’m in there every, single day. I’d love you to join us: take a look here.
Whatever life feels like at the moment, know that there is a way through. You can get through your divorce, coronavirus or no coronavirus! And I’m here whenever you need me.
Just book in a call if you’d like a chat.
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