Schools, shops and hospitality closed during some of the lockdowns and much of our normal day to day life appeared to stop, leaving us with fewer distractions and more time to focus on family and home. We have all endured so much – the impact of COVID-19 has put pressure on everyone whatever their personal circumstances. Many have weathered the storm, but, unfortunately, for some, lockdown and the restrictions that were imposed have had a negative impact on their relationships.
The divorce rate has increased in 2020, which may not be so surprising as people have been forced to live with their spouses for 24 hours per day. Financial worries have been at the forefront of many people’s minds and there has been a significant impact on mental health.
Christmas will have been very different for everyone this year too. The period over Christmas and the New Year is normally a time for families to come together, but this may have been extra difficult for families where there are already problems in a relationship or where the couple has already decided that they wish to separate.
If you were still together over Christmas, you may have been able to put your problems to one side, ready to address them in the new year – maybe “for the sake of the children”. Wherever you are in your separation, it is difficult at any time of the year. There is no “right time” and no universal “right answer”. Whatever works for you can be the best solution.
If you have decided your relationship is at an end, you may be uncertain as to what to do next. You may have spent a considerable period of your life with someone and you are entering into unchartered territory. Although there is not a ‘one size fits all’, communication and prioritising your children, if there are any, can be key to making the separation as painless and workable as possible. Here, partner and head of our family team, Bradie Pell, offers some guidance and practical steps (rather than legal advice) as to what you might wish to consider if you have decided to separate or have recently separated.
- Talk to each other if you can. Have some early discussions about what you both want to achieve. Try to keep things amicable.
- Make a note of the date that you separated. For some this will be an ingrained date, for others who have had various periods of separation, this can be more of a blur. Try to identify the date when you both agreed the relationship was over, even if after that date you physically remained in the same house. The date of separation will be amongst one of the first questions various agencies and solicitors will ask.
- If children are involved, think about how you are going to address your separation with them. Try to discuss the interim care arrangements. Will you both continue to provide care? For example, will each of you have specific roles such as collection and return from school/nursery? It is better if you can agree this between you but if not, seek early legal advice and avoid exposing the children to conflict. If there are concerns surrounding harm to the child or domestic violence you should also seek early legal advice and if needed contact the police.
- If possible, try to think about practicalities. When a relationship comes to an end, there are a number of things to consider; children, pets, contents, the house, sharing of income, payment of bills, use of bank accounts and so on. Make a list of what you need to resolve and try to address each aspect individually. If you can talk this through together it can be easier, if not perhaps consider agreeing a channel of communication such as email. The aim is to try to agree a “holding position” between you until you can finalise the long-term arrangements. For example, how is the mortgage or rent going to be paid, are you both going to stay in the same house whilst matters are resolved or, is one person going to move out? Remember, the initial arrangements may not be your ideal solution, but they are supposed to provide some clarity and stability at least until you obtain legal advice (if you haven’t already) and decide what you would like to happen in the long term. It may be helpful for you to seek advice before the separation is finalised or very shortly after.
- Think about going to mediation. You can self-refer to mediation and this can be a useful forum, in the right circumstances, to try to avoid disputes. At the moment many mediators are undertaking sessions by video conference such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, so it is still accessible. The mediation provider will guide you through the options and help you to discuss matters that are in dispute. This could relate to finances or issues surrounding children. If you manage to reach an agreement in mediation, this can then usually be put into a legally binding document which a solicitor can help you with. You can also obtain legal advice alongside mediation. The mediator cannot give you legal advice. You would both need separate legal advice.
- Make an appointment with a family solicitor. Many solicitors offer free initial consultations and will provide you with advice as to the possible next steps and your options. This can be vital, and it is better to obtain this advice sooner rather than later.
Separations are often not straightforward, and each relationship is unique. Separation does not have to be acrimonious. It can, and should, be amicable. Whatever your own situation and whether your separation is amicable or not, please seek early legal advice – even if it’s just to find out what separation may look like for you.
Contact one of our family law experts now.