Divorcing during a worldwide pandemic

What are the first steps you should take when separation becomes inevitable?

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Divorcing from your partner is a tough experience at any stage in your life, let alone in a worldwide pandemic.

Considering the steps below – where possible in tandem with your ex-partner – can help guide you through this tricky time, making the difficult process that little bit easier.

1. Pause for thought

If you are the one who has decided that the marriage is over, take some time to be sure. There is no rush (unless you believe your spouse may be able to begin proceedings abroad, in which case you should seek expert legal advice as quickly as possible). 

You can also consider counselling; most counsellors offer online appointments, so the current lockdown should not dissuade you. Even if it doesn’t save the relationship, it may help you transition from a married couple to being single, and will improve your ability to communicate as separated parents if you have children. If the divorce is not your decision, you might find counselling useful for helping you come to terms with the end of your marriage.

2. Think about who else will be affected by the divorce

Most obviously, it’s important to think about what is best for any children you share. How can you work together to minimise the impact on them?

Discuss how and when you will tell them that you will be separating, and, if possible, do it together. It’s also equally important to consider the arrangements you will make for the children to spend time with each of you, as well as informing schools and any other care providers so that they can help. 

3. Do what you can to reduce the pressure

Separating during a period of lockdown increases the pressure upon you both. If you are still living together, try to agree that you each have a private space somewhere in the house, and don’t invade the other’s space. Talk about how you can both use communal spaces in a sympathetic way. 

4. Be prepared

Make sure you have a good understanding of the family finances, and gather your paperwork in advance of seeking professional advice, to help give your solicitor an accurate picture of your financial position. 

There’s also value in reading up on the divorce process to educate yourself, but be aware of what you read on the internet – it can contain inaccurate information! There are several useful online resources out there that you can access for free, including www.advicenow.org.uk, www.resolution.org.uk and www.citizensadvice.org.uk.

Solicitors’ websites are usually a good resource too. Although not a replacement for proper advice from a solicitor on your own circumstances, a basic understanding of the process will help you feel more confident when you seek that advice.

5. Think about your priorities

Give some thought to your situation. What is most important to you? What are your concerns? Again, when you seek advice, this is important information to communicate to your solicitor, so it helps if you have given it some thought.

6. Get advice from a specialist family solicitor

There is no substitute for proper advice that is specific to you. Even if you and your partner broadly agree, you will need a solicitor to draw up the paperwork and help ensure all the technical aspects are covered.

Hence why it’s vital to find the right solicitor for you. It needs to be someone you feel comfortable with, and confident in, so don’t be afraid to see someone else if the chemistry isn’t right. While it’s always helpful to get recommendations from others, it’s also worthwhile doing your own research: the lawyer your friend thought was “marvellous“ may not be a good fit for you.

But perhaps most crucially, check that the solicitor you contact is a member of Resolution – the  national organisation of family lawyers – as all members are required to follow a Code of Practice that promotes the constructive resolution of family disputes. 

7. Do what you can to reduce your legal bill

Solicitors generally charge on a time basis, so doing what you can to save their time can dramatically reduce your bill. For example, before you meet them for the first time, write a short summary of the background to your situation with an overview of your financial position, listing any specific areas that you wish to discuss. This will help you both focus in your meeting on the issues to be resolved. 

Whilst you’ll want your solicitor to empathise with your situation, try to save long conversations of how you feel about the breakdown of your marriage for your close friends or counsellor, as this will keep time with your solicitor focused on the issues that need to be resolved. You may want to  take notes during your meetings and, if your solicitor has given you a lot of advice, ask them to send you a written summary of the main points afterwards.

8. Consider all of the available ways to resolve your dispute 

In addition to traditional in-court proceedings,there are many different methods of dispute resolution available. For example, mediation can help you and your spouse reach an agreement between yourselves, whereas arbitration involves agreeing to appoint an arbitrator to determine any outstanding issues between you.

You can discuss all the options with your solicitor to identify which might be appropriate for you and your spouse. Be aware, however, that as a result of successive lockdowns, there are extremely long delays in the court process, and so an alternative route may well be the most efficient way of finalising matters.

Looking forward

When it comes to the early stages of divorce, it’s best to ensure the assistance and support you require is tailored to your own personal situation. So, to minimise both the emotional and financial impact of divorce proceedings, especially if you’re stuck together in lockdown, take time to find the best solicitor and approach for you. And, perhaps most importantly, maintain open communication with your ex-partner and family: it will help you all get through these turbulent times.  

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