When New Jersey’s COVID-19 stay at home orders went into effect in March, many divorcing spouses across the state found themselves in the not so ideal situation of needing to stay together under one roof.
These circumstances may have led some couples to consider reconciling. But for most, spending these last few months trapped together has been an uncomfortable purgatory, with the divorce process feeling scattered and stuck.
Have your divorce plans been derailed by COVID-19? Check out these 5 key action steps you can take to get your divorce moving again.
Claim your own space
Once you decided to divorce, maybe you had plans to move out, or your spouse was preparing to move. But then New Jersey’s stay at home orders were issued and these plans became impossible. You and your spouse may not have been on the best of terms when this all started (and still may not be), but there was just no other alternative.
If you’ve been forced together over the past few months, the first step towards re-establishing forward momentum is to claim your own space. Are you still sleeping in the same bedroom and/or the same bed? Divorce therapists agree that this kind of arrangement is confusing for everyone, including your kids. If there’s a lot of animosity between you and your spouse, this arrangement can be a tinderbox for fights.
Action Step: If your home affords you a spare bedroom or a bonus room over the garage, consider making it a clean break by keeping all your clothes and other personal belongings in that one room, and start sleeping there too. Your rooms can then become your individual “home base” and place of refuge in the house. Some spouses even install key locks on their bedrooms as a way to ensure privacy.
If you have kids, it’s important that you explain any change like this to them as part of the overall conversation you are having with them about your evolving family structure. Kids have questions about their parents’ divorce, so when your children see this new arrangement, use kid-friendly terms to help them understand what is happening. This can be as simple as explaining, “Mommy and Daddy each have their own spaces, and that helps them get along better.”
Important note about domestic violence: Domestic violence rates have been increasing during lockdown as victims are isolated from support systems. Are you being abused? Help is available. Shelters are open. You can go to the police for a restraining order. You can file for divorce and you can get temporary alimony and child support. Call 911 in case of emergency, and the NJ Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-572-SAFE (7233) to be connected to resources. Schedule a virtual consultation to speak with an attorney experienced in divorce and domestic violence.
Commit to co-parenting
All families have been thrown off course over the past few months with kids home from school and sports and other usual activities canceled. Parenting has been difficult across the board, but there are added complexities for divorcing parents. It can be confusing for children to grasp or accept changing family dynamics in divorce. This topsy-turvy world we’re all navigating may make children feel even less secure.
It’s up to you to provide your children with the unambiguous structure they need.
Action Step: If you and your spouse have decided to divorce, then you have also decided to take on new roles as co-parents to your children. Sit down and discuss how to take a shared approach to each of you spending meaningful time with your kids.
One concrete step you can take is to write up a temporary parenting plan that specifies solo times that you will each have with the children. As you rotate through your parenting time schedule, kids should be clear on which parent is in charge. The other parent can have their own time to themselves, leaving the house if possible. Parenting time plans are meant to help children maintain and strengthen their bonds with each of their parents, and give each of you breathing room. This approach also models your new family structure for your kids, helping all of you better adjust.
Reach out to your attorney
It is difficult to talk strategy with your family law attorney when you soon-to-be-ex husband or wife is sitting feet away, or your children are within ear shot. Emailing or even texting back and forth may not be sufficient to discuss more complex or delicate issues involved in your divorce.
Action Step: Your attorney can help you get unstuck from this holding pattern your divorce has fallen into, so make it a priority to find the time and space to have a completely private conversation focused on how to get moving. Right now attorneys are meeting with clients virtually, over the phone or video conferencing. If you have kids and have instituted a parenting time plan (see above) then your “off time” may be the perfect time for setting up a call.
For privacy, your best bet may be taking the call in your car. If you do need to be at home, consider buying a simple white noise machine, run a white noise app through an old phone connected to a speaker, or set up a fan outside the room to help mask the sound of the conversation. (No method offers 100% sound proofing so test carefully.) Let your attorney know where you are taking the call from and any privacy hindrances. You can even set up simple code words to use!
Explore out of court divorce options
When you do connect with your attorney, a key topic to discuss is how to expedite and streamline your divorce through using a low conflict method to resolve your issues out of court. Is this approach appropriate for your divorce? Low conflict methods such as mediation can help to settle a divorce in much less time than going through the courts, which also saves on your divorce budget.
Action Step: Take stock of where you and your spouse are with your divorce and ability to work things out. Are you able to reasonably communicate about your issues? Are you both open to negotiation and compromise? If so, then there is almost no reason to keep dragging your divorce through the overloaded court system. Let your attorney know that you would like to explore mediation or collaborative divorce, or other low conflict methods, and get a plan together for how to start moving forward. [Learn more about ways to divorce in New Jersey.]
Take stock of what you really want
Time with your kids, a comfortable place to live, financial security and peace of mind… Perhaps one silver lining of lockdown is the ability to see more clearly what it is that you truly value and want your future to hold.
Action Step: Take some deliberate time to “get quiet” and really hone in on your future…what do you want it to look like three months, six months, and one or two years down the road? Write down what you see and share your goals with your attorney. Refine as needed and work together to create a strategy for achieving your goals. Having goals to strive for may be the exact motivation you need to get moving again.
Divorcing during a pandemic is probably not what you envisioned for yourself. But the next chapter is now yours to write.
Have questions about your divorce and how to get moving again? We can help. Schedule a virtual consultation and talk to an attorney. (Phone or video virtual consults available — your choice.) Call us today at 888-888-0919, or please click the button below.