Being stuck at home during COVID-19 has proven to be a challenge for many couples. Juggling multiple responsibilities along with full time jobs – or the stress of unemployment – and forced togetherness 24/7, they have experienced increased tension in their marriage that, if already fragile or acrimonious, has been leading separation and divorce.
Divorce during the pandemic certainly adds a distinctive set of challenges, both financially and mentally, to what is already a difficult process. Particularly with a volatile economy, the stakes are high if a business and/or child are involved. However, an amicable divorce is still the recommended route.
Here is How to Amicably Divorce Your Spouse During COVID-19
How to Announce the Separation
To amicably divorce your spouse, it is important to use compassion when telling your them you want to get a divorce. Even if you are in an unhappy marriage, having the decency to give him/her the dignity of a compassionate discussion about your reasons for wanting the divorce are key to facilitating a more humane process and successful resolution.
Being emotional is understandable, particularly during this strange time, however lashing out in anger or being vindictive will only increase the acrimony and even slow down acceptance of the divorce. It will also add considerable emotional stress, leading to increased conflict that ultimately drives up the cost of divorce. “We have grown apart” or “I have become unhappy in our marriage” is a better approach than following your emotion by saying something like or “I never loved you.” Whenever possible, avoid placing blame and speak from the ‘I’, rather than ‘you’. For example, say “I don’t feel supported” rather than “You never support me”.
The emotional tone you set during the first conversation about this life-changing decision will hopefully result in the amicability of the divorce.
Crucial First Steps
Additionally, there are important first steps and best practices that every couple should follow when planning for their separation:
1. Promote Personal Wellbeing
A legal separation is one of the most difficult life events to experience. People don’t know how to stop feeling the way they do and how to deal with their new reality. Invest in acquiring new skills before the divorce is finalized, to become more aware of yourself – your needs, how you deal with conflict, how you respond to situations that make you angry or sad, how to improve your communication and interpersonal skills.
2. Protect Your Children
Become educated on best practices before having any separation-related conversations with the children, or within their earshot. Children also often need help or support when there is a separation, and it’s important that any conversation about it is age appropriate.
Social workers or mental health professionals can help you develop new communication skills and establish a personalized parenting plan. Working through the process together makes it easier for parents and kids to keep relationships intact.
3. Determine Living Arrangements
It can take time to organize your affairs and physically move apart – especially during COVID. That can make the transition period extremely challenging for the entire family. Once the separation has been announced, spouses who continue to share a residence should work together, with professionals if necessary, to create a transition and exit plan as soon as possible. Try to agree on schedules for who has nights off to alleviate some tension, who takes the kids to programs, alternate providing bedtime routines, and communication guidelines.
4. Preserve the Family Business
The business is both an asset and income for the family – sometimes for more than one generation. But upon separation, people can deliberately or inadvertently cause harm to the family business. Spouses need to work together on a transition and exit plan by agreeing on who continues to work in the business, how to transition their roles with staff and suppliers, and how to make property and support payments that take into account the business cash flow and development needs.
5. De-Couple Finances
There is often confusion about how to handle joint accounts, including where a spouse’s pay should be deposited post-separation, and who pays what expenses. This is a delicate topic and it’s more effective when both parties discuss it when cooler minds prevail, with the help of lawyers and financial planners. In general, it is best not to unilaterally rush into separating the finances, especially during an emotional period, rather the process should happen in consultation with both lawyers and spouses. Separations are often more successful when both spouses are knowledgeable about their finances and work together to build a vision for their newly separated lives.
Collaborative Law and Mediation Are the Way to Do It
Living through the pandemic has already taken a significant toll on people’s mental health, and a fractious divorce battle in the courts will only add more stress to the entire family. Going to court means deferring to a judge to decide all aspects of your life, meaning the couple will have no say in the final outcome, while also giving up their privacy in the process. Alternative processes such as mediation and collaborative law can lessen the negative impact of divorce –especially on children – and help families come out better, both financially and mentally.
Nathalie Boutet, based in Toronto, is an experienced family law lawyer, accredited mediator and certified Family Enterprise Advisor, skilled at providing unique strategies and out-of-court results to the complex legal, financial and human matters related to separation or divorce for high-net-worth families and business owners. www.boutetfamilylaw.com