Around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic is testing health resources, international relations and economies. On a personal level, it’s also putting a pressure test on our relationships. Government restrictions mean that we are spending more time than ever with the members of our household – with little opportunity for the social, sporting and other activities we usually enjoy outside the house.

If some big relationship questions have come up for you and your spouse or partner, you’re probably feeling a mix of emotions. Uncertainty, sadness and loneliness are common during this time. Be reassured, though, that you’re not alone and there is a way out of this situation that probably feels quite messy right now.

Looking to separate or divorce after COVID? You’re not alone.

Our Sydney lawyers  are already fielding calls from people who are thinking of separating or divorcing now that social isolation restrictions are easing a little. When our lawyers speak with their family law colleagues, they are hearing a similar story.

It’s not surprising. China – the country first hit by the virus and lockdowns – reported a spike in divorces as restrictions began to lift. In one Chinese province,  news reports indicated that workers at a government office didn’t “have time to drink water” because so many people were lined up to file for divorce.

Even without observing this trend overseas, the potential for a divorce spike seems inevitable. First, there’s the financial chaos that this pandemic is inflicting. A loss of income and a nosedive in the value of assets can be problematic for personal relationships. In 2009, following the Global Financial Crisis, statistics indicate the number of total divorces in Australia increased by 4.7%. We can only assume there is a likely chance that many defacto separations mirror this figure.

Working from home, self-isolation policies and forced proximity have created a perfect storm in some households, putting a spotlight on longstanding unresolved relationship issues. With constant news reports of the human toll of this virus, many are also reflecting on their life and their own mortality. We might be picturing our lives post-COVID – and for some that future doesn’t involve their “other half”.

Is it just a crisis or is it over?

We’ve all likely had ups and downs in our relationships, and these may have been amplified by the COVID-19 crisis. You may be wondering whether it’s really over or just a blip on the radar caused by truly difficult circumstances.

It really comes down to whether your relationship is a healthy one that’s worth saving or a toxic one that you can no longer continue to be part of.

Psychologists say these things may help you decide which category your relationship falls into:

  1. What does your gut tell you? To get out or stay the course?
  2. Does your partner make you question your own reality or doubt your gut feelings?
  3. Is your partner inconsistent – building you up at times and then criticising you?
  4. Does your partner’s behaviour stop you from seeing your family or friends or doing the things you love?
  5. Do you feel you can be yourself around your partner? Or do you feel like you’re never good enough?

If you have children, it’s also important to think about how they are being impacted by ongoing conflict. Are your constant fights causing distress to your children? Looking at the whole picture can help make your decision to separate or divorce an easier one.

What to do if you’re ready to separate or divorce post-COVID

So, your gut (and someone such as your closest friend) is telling you it’s time to end the relationship and move on with your life. The immediate impact of that decision alone can be devastating. While it’s easy to feel a sense of failure, it’s important to remember that about one in three marriages end in divorce, and again, we can only assume there is a likely chance that many defacto partner separations mirror this figure. Your marriage or partnership may have failed, but you haven’t.

Once you’ve made the decision to separate or divorce, it’s critical that you have a plan to guide you, a support team behind you and a vision of a fresh new life ahead of you. In particular, we recommend these steps:

  1. Consult a legal adviser with experience with family law issues. Our Sydney family lawyers can help you clarify your decision, understand what is ahead, form a plan and make the right decisions. Remember, seeing a legal adviser doesn’t mean you have to go ahead with the separation or divorce, in fact it sometimes may even help the relationship by giving you the chance to not feel unsettled knowing things can be resolved in the future and or your interests protected. Sometimes this just adds a sense of security for people who are often feeling bewildered.

  2. Tell your lawyer about any abuse or violence, or any fears you may have about your partner disposing of assets. You can get help and it’s important that your lawyer is aware of these things to form the best strategy to help you. One possible strategy, for example, is to make an urgent application to get your partner out of the home if they are refusing to leave.

  3. Find support from a close friend who you know will have your back no matter what. Someone you trust completely to keep things confidential.

  4. Talk to a counsellor with expertise in family separations. Children may also benefit from the support and strategies provided by an independent professional. Relationships Australia is one organisation that offers an affordable counselling service to those experiencing family issues. Unifam Youth Services may also be able to help young people deal with family issues.

During this difficult time, it’s important to remember that the family law will now decide what is just and equitable – not your partner. Don’t listen to self-serving advice or comments. Don’t listen to put downs. And do not listen to ultimatums about property and parenting arrangements.

Keep in mind that your discussions with your lawyer should remain private. Change passwords on your phone and email to prevent any snooping. It’s critical to keep advice and strategy confidential.

Remember your priorities, too. Try to keep things as neutral and normal as possible for your children. Stick to routines and don’t fall into the trap of talking about relationship issues in front of them. If you need some help, consider joining a support group for parents or taking a post-separation parenting course.

Speaking to a family law expert

Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been told that we’re not alone and that we should get support if we need it. The advice is the same for a personal crisis like separation. And just as there will be a way forward for the world after the pandemic, there is a way forward for you after separation or divorce.

If you’re ready to get advice about separation or divorce, contact  our Sydney family lawyers today for tailored advice about your family law situation.

The content of this article is intended as a general guide to the subject matter. For specific legal advice about your individual circumstances, please contact our experienced lawyers.

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