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2020 has not been kind to marriages. From A-list celebrities to the average family, divorce inquiries have spiked due to COVID-19. The pandemic lockdown has put pressure on already strained relationships. Affairs have been uncovered, financial worry has increased, children are feeling stressed and acting out, and domestic violence has increased.
Whether you have been abandoned by your spouse or simply can’t take it anymore, trust me when I say you aren’t alone. In addition to being a Divorce Coach, my own marriage ended 6 weeks before we went into lockdown. So, I truly understand.
As a parent, your first worry will be for your children. They will be OK in the long run I promise, but their feelings right now may be complicated. They may be sad, angry, scared, and even relieved that the tension in the household has stopped. Kids are dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now, and divorce stress only adds to their worries. But as a mom, there are certain things you can do to make this process easier for your kids.
1. Make sure you are safe. If you fear for your safety or for the safety of your children, your priority is to find a safe place to stay. Do you have friends or family with extra space? Is there a shelter you can call? Most social services agencies have remained open to help during the pandemic and your kids’ school can get you connected to one. Once you have found safety, call an attorney or speak to someone at the family courts about your legal rights. Leaving the home does not mean you’ve abandoned your financial claim to it.
2. Take care of yourself. It’s the old oxygen mask metaphor, but you really do need to care for yourself before you can care for your children. Like the majority of moms, you are likely used to putting the needs of everyone else before yours. But divorce is exhausting and you need to have energy to advocate for yourself and your kids in settlement talks. You need to get enough sleep, eat well, and get in some exercise to help manage your stress. You can’t help anyone else if you are exhausted or get sick.
3. Foster resilience. While we’d all like to give our kids perfect childhoods, it’s good for your children to see you being strong in the face of adversity. We will all encounter tough situations in our lives and the difference between victimhood and thriving is mindset (I know because I’ve done both.) Be open in an age-appropriate way with your kids about what you are experiencing. Tell them that between the divorce and the pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty, but that you will make sure you are all OK.
4. Maintain calm. The time for fighting with your ex is in the past and you get to reframe that relationship. Even if he is very high conflict, you do not need to engage. Be clear about your wishes (“I need you to follow the temporary parenting plan to which we agreed) and document everything should you end up discussing the issue in court. You are no longer alone in this relationship. You have the support of your lawyer and the law. The key to winning this battle is to maintain your composure and to keep things very business-like. Your kids will benefit from the increased peace in their lives.
5. Establish boundaries. It’s natural for your kids to act out under COVID and divorce stress, but if you establish clear boundaries, they will learn how far they can push. Acknowledge their feelings but draw the line: “I understand that you are frustrated with the lockdown, but it’s not safe right now for you to go to that party. Let’s think of ways to get you together with your friends without risking everyone’s health.” You kids, your work, and your ex needs to know where your line is drawn. The clearer you can be, the better.
6. Create space. If your ex is still in the house with you (and legally, unless there is a threat of violence, they can choose to stay) you will need some clear physical boundaries. Make a decision on who is sleeping where and explain that to your children (when one parent tries to sneak into the basement at night, any children over the age of about two will know.) Try to carve out a little space just for you even if it’s a closet or a bathroom. Book a time for your ex to watch the children while you go for a walk or a drive. Everyone needs space to clear their heads, especially during a divorce.
7. Get clear on your finances. Divorce is a business and a key component is splitting the assets and deciding payment amounts for maintenance and/or child support. This exercise can be extra tricky right now as asset valuations swing up and down with the markets. Income can also be less stable as many are out of work or risk losing their jobs. If you have the benefit of time, you may want to take it. Put temporary support orders in place and then see how things unfold. There is no point is paying a lawyer to achieve spousal support only to have your ex lose his job and a court remove his obligation.
8. Advocate for your children’s health. COVID-19 has put health worries at the forefront. If you and your ex disagree on how to best avoid the virus, you may need the help of a lawyer. The courts are currently making decisions for parents who disagree on attending school or wearing masks. A lawyer can help you understand how the courts are tilting in your state, which may give you’re a stronger argument to use with your ex.
9. Gather your resources. It is really hard to get through a divorce in a pandemic on your own. Try to enlist help. Mediators, lawyers, parenting coordinators, social workers, financial advisors, and therapists can all make this process easier. Ask about sliding scale rates if money is tight. Most family courts have someone on staff who can help you navigate the process. Don’t try to tackle this alone if you don’t have to.
Divorce is never easy and right now it’s extra hard. But you and your children can come out stronger on the other side. Take care of yourself, establish emotional and physical boundaries and get a divorce team in place. With the calm you achieve and resilience you build you and your kids will emerge stronger from this process.