Are You Sure You Want A Divorce?
A Mediator’s Questions.
It’s safe to say we are living in precarious times at the moment. There is more stress than usual with the pandemic still in full effect and the rise of important social issues that seem to have reached their tipping point.
What does this all mean for the divorce world? Well, lots of folks are on edge and thinking they may want out of their marriages. There are important steps that I follow when potential clients come to me who are thinking about divorce. These steps have changed since our world was altered back in March. It’s necessary to view family life through a different lens now that our lives have been altered by the virus.
First, I really want to understand why the couple has called me. Are they truly ready to divorce or is this a reaction to the crisis? Perhaps they’ve been cooped up together for months and have finally reached their boiling point?
I want to make sure they are exercising some kind of mental care and are making decisions with a somewhat clear head. I’ll often recommend that they each consult a mental health professional or someone they feel comfortable confiding in to gauge where they are.
I have noticed that a big sticking point during these last few months is that couples are experiencing role confusion. Meaning pre-March Husband may have been out of the house for 80% of the time at work while Wife was the one that took care of the household duties like cooking and the kids’ homework. These defined roles in the household have changed dramatically with quarantine, job loss and homeschooling.
With the loss of defined roles comes a loss of identity. It could also highlight very different philosophies when it comes to parenting and finances. This may serve as an opportunity to get into many more squabbles than usual. The cycle starts with blame, deflection and withdrawal and may lead to feelings of being misunderstood or dismissed by your partner. You have to ask- am I not recognizing who I married or is this just a temporary bump in the road due to these extraordinary circumstances?
Second, I want to make sure that the couple is setting boundaries with each other. Being stuck in the same physical space is extremely difficult and can lead to a feeling of suffocation. Setting a plan in motion to allow each individual the physical and mental space they each need can help tremendously whether or not they decide to divorce. It is important that they each have a private location to communicate – whether it involves communicating about the divorce or anything else.
Third, as with anything in life, the more you know about something, the less intimidating it is. This is especially true when it comes to divorce. I will review in great detail what the couple can expect in the divorce process. If in fact, a divorce is what they want, laying out the issues and steps does not have to take long or make a big dent in their bank accounts.
Fourth, I will provide the couple with a checklist of information they should be thinking about or collecting. The checklist mostly covers finances and children’s issues. They should be gathering important financial documents like bank statements or deeds and also discussing how they see coordinating with the kids’ schedules.
Fifth, and in concert with step 4, the couple should be taking notes about their post-divorce budget. What does their financial future look like? Is one party keeping the family home? Are spousal support payments part of the equation? While they don’t have to have exact answers, it’s imperative that they start thinking about these issues.
The good news for divorcing couples during this time is that if you are willing to try an out of court process, especially while many courts are closed or extremely backed up, your experience can be somewhat pleasant. With mediation, for example, you and your spouse will determine exactly how you want the divorce to proceed.
Mediation allows couples to arrive at resolutions specifically tailored for them that align with their individual goals and values. There are many issues that need to be addressed specifically for this time, such as, what to do when school does come back, the end of a furlough or if one parent gets sick. We can tailor the agreement to provide for all of these situations.
It’s imperative that the couple contemplating divorce is aware of all their options, has access to mental health professionals and is given accurate information on the divorce process. Divorce is one of the hardest things someone will have to face, especially in these uncertain times. Taking the right steps before pressing play can make all the difference in the world.