Right now, we are living through unprecedented levels of change and uncertainty as a result of the impact of Covid-19. Even the most solid relationships have been tested by additional challenges and the need to adapt to meet them. For some, the pressures of the pandemic will have exposed deeper, longstanding issues that have proved to be impossible to resolve.
We know from many of the enquiries we are now receiving here at Silk Family Law as lockdown eases, that some of these couples are now taking this opportunity to go their separate ways and build new futures: some amicably; but some sadly not.
Wherever you are on that spectrum, if you’re reading this then you’re probably looking for some guidance. My colleague, Wayne Lynn, blogged recently about the practical things you can do right now if you are contemplating divorce. This blog looks at how to effectively manage the heightened emotions and potential conflicts that can arise during separation and divorce.
(1) Prioritising children’s welfare
The impact of parental conflict on children has been well researched. It is recognised and documented that exposure to conflict can have a debilitating effect on a children’s emotional and psychological development. The charity Relate explores the different effects you might expect to see on its website here: Parental arguments – understanding the effects on your children.
Whilst it is appreciated that most parents will disagree occasionally and some level of conflict is to be expected, when conflict becomes heightened and is not resolved, children will be exposed to harm by witnessing their parents’ hostility towards one another, and action needs to be taken to shield children from it.
Ensuring that children are not exposed to conflict is often not easy if you continue to occupy the same property, but it is vitally important that the children’s welfare is prioritised. If you are able to communicate without arguing, then calm discussions should happen where children cannot hear you. Waiting until children are asleep at night can be a good solution. If you are unable to communicate verbally, writing things down instead can often help, and allow you time to consider and compose your thoughts.
(2) Treating each other with respect
Whilst emotions are high, this isn’t always easy, particularly where there has been a breakdown in trust and potentially communications between you both. It is important therefore to ensure that communications remain civil and constructive. The impacts of the pandemic have been far reaching, and everyone’s situation is different. Before reacting negatively to a communication from your ex partner, it may help to stop and consider their situation, what they’re going through and how they may be feeling.
This is particularly important for separated parents. With restrictions still in place around visiting friends and maintaining social distancing, you may not have access to the full cohort of childcare options, activities and socialisation opportunities that you had pre-lockdown. Now more than ever, separated parents will have to rely upon one another to co-parent effectively.
(3) Establishing a line of communication
It is important that separating parties are able to communicate effectively, especially where children are involved. If this is not possible in person without resulting in an argument, then communications may be best in the short term to be restricted to written communication such as text and email. Any communication should be constructive and amicable. Not only will this beneficial in assisting you both to communicate, but further should there need to be an application to Court in the future, it is important to consider how a Judge may view these messages. Communication should also be limited to that which is necessary to resolve practical issues. Depending on your circumstances, mediation may be beneficial. Working with a trained mediator can help to facilitate communication between ex partners and bring negotiations to a mutually agreeable conclusion without the need to go to court.
(4) Managing your own emotional state
Emotional readiness is acknowledging your own feelings and any negative thoughts about your ex-partner, and being able to put them aside so that you are able to deal with matters pragmatically. If you have children, it is also about listening to your children’s feelings without judgement and without taking anything they say personally or reacting defensively. This will also allow you to communicate better with your ex-partner. There is much helpful guidance on the internet in relation to this. We also often encourage our clients to undertake counselling, which in the current circumstances can be arranged remotely, to help them come to terms with emotions.
(5) Minimising contact
Sometimes the best option for all parties is to minimise contact, either to reduce conflict or to protect yourself and, if applicable, your children.
If you are experiencing or have experienced any abuse or do not feel safe in your home, contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 200 247. That line can help you plan to leave your home if you need to and can refer you to safe emergency accommodation.
If your ex-partner is violent and refuses to leave, it may be possible to apply for an Order for you to stay in the home and make your ex-partner leave. You should speak to a solicitor as soon as possible to arrange this. Pandemic restrictions should not be a barrier to taking urgent steps to protect yourself.
(6) Clarity on your finances
At any time, the division of one household into two households due to separation comes with financial pressure. This is heightened in circumstances where there are redundancies, furloughing, market volatility and an increase in the cost of living. Again, this should not be a bar to protecting yourself and your children. At the earliest opportunity it is important you gather financial documentation and valuations to understand your current position. A solicitor can help advise you on the likely outcomes from any next steps. Having clarity on your financial position can help you move forward with a clear head and negotiate calmly from a clear position, reducing conflict from debates and arguments over finances later on.
Blog post by Christian Butler, former associate at Silk Family Law.
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