It’s been a long month of social distancing. I mean – wow – this is the most time I have spent with my spouse since … ever! I can appreciate why many couples who were already struggling with relationship dysfunction, or were desiring a separation, may be feeling over the edge now.
Of course, these are stressful times for the best of us, and it may be worthwhile to explore relationship counselling if you are struggling. There are relationship counsellors willing to meet by telephone or videoconference, and this certainly seems worth a try. Even if counselling is ineffective in saving your marriage, the counsellor may be able to help you and your spouse deal with the emotional difficulty of going through a separation.
If you are ready to initiate a separation, can this be done during the pandemic? The short answer is yes. The courts are only hearing “urgent” matters right now but seeking a divorce order is often the last step. Before you ask the court to grant you a divorce order, you will be waiting until you have lived “separate and apart” for at least one year. And before you ask – yes, you can be living “separate and apart” in the same home, as long as you are considering yourself “separated”, meaning there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.
The first step in initiating a separation is to schedule a consultation with a lawyer who specializes in family law. A lawyer can inform you of your rights and obligations, walk you through what your separation may look like, and explain how the process will likely unfold for you and your family. Over the years, I have given consultations to many people who are not sure whether they are separating or not. For these individuals, a consultation gives them peace of mind to understand how the process might unfold, and what they can do to ensure things go as smoothly as possible if a separation does occur.
In almost all circumstances, including difficult and acrimonious separations, it is best to try negotiating a Separation Agreement on mutually agreeable terms. The process usually begins by exchanging financial information and proposed parenting plans. Ideally, after exchanging all relevant information, you and your spouse will be able to reach an agreement on terms and a Separation Agreement can be drafted. If you are having difficulty reaching an agreement, mediation is a great way to reach a resolution and there are many well-qualified mediators available to conduct mediations by videoconference.
If you are still unsuccessful in reaching an agreement even after trying mediation, by the time you get to that stage it is highly likely the courts will be accepting applications and dealing with non-urgent matters again. If you are looking for a faster resolution, you could alternatively proceed with scheduling an arbitration at that time, which is similar to a court hearing but with a paid arbitrator of your choosing instead of a judge.
In summary, if you need to initiate a separation, yes you can do this during the pandemic. The timing may not be ideal, but is there ever an ideal time to get a divorce? Who knows how long this pandemic will last? It’s hard enough being socially isolated, I cannot imagine also feeling forced to remain in a dysfunctional or even abusive relationship.