Pandemic Relationships

Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During a Pandemic

Month: May 2020

Kindness and compassion in times of fear and uncertainty

Uncertainty caused by the pandemic can bring stress, fear, even panic.  Tania Perlin offers tips for self-care and compassion that can ease our anxiety and help us manage our lives.In the eye of the storm

Two weeks ago, I listened with disbelief to the news that schools will remain closed after March Break, and then with a further shock that many courts would be closed until further notice. The continuous news feed, telling us to stay home, social distance from others, and close businesses are creating palpable fear.

The knee jerk reaction for most of us is to panic. Our clients are scrambling to get their mediation dates pushed up, asking if we can do remote mediations. Parties are calling lawyers and paralegals asking for advice regarding emergency matters and court hearings. Those involved in family litigation are very concerned that their motions for custody, spousal support, and other pressing issues will not be heard for an indefinite period of time.

The stress of these uncertain times is greatly multiplied for those going through the litigation process. Litigation itself encompasses and swallows one’s life in a cloud of uncertainty and darkness. It causes parties to literally put their lives on hold, sometimes for years. It depletes mental and physical energy, finances, and at times, hope. Each litigant knows that feeling of hopefulness when heading to court for a motion or hearing, the hope that maybe today will be the end of this hell and life can return to normal, only to exit the courthouse feeling dejected and hopeless, as the wheels of the process turn at a very slow pace.

On top of this daily reality faced by litigants, current court closures and restrictions have added a whole new dimension to the seemingly endless litigation journey.

Reframing and taking control

My parents came to Canada as refugees from the former Soviet Union.

In order to get here, they went through many difficulties, from religious persecution to indefinite waiting in refugee hubs, not knowing what awaited them. They left everything they knew in order to ensure freedom for their children.  The lesson that they imparted to me was to stay in the moment. No matter how uncertain life seems, focus on what’s in front of you.

My parents chose to control what they could and let go of things they could not. It was not easy, but it helped them survive.

The present situation may seem very dark, especially for litigants who are waiting to resolve family law cases where children are involved. However, I would suggest reframing current events and finding purpose within the havoc.

For once, everyone is in the same boat. For the first time, all litigants are facing the same closures and delays, which are unaffected by one’s ability to hire a lawyer.

We cannot control the 24/7 news feed, other people’s behavior, government directives, court, and other closures, or COVID-19 itself. What we can control is ourselves. We can be accommodating to other litigants, and help find alternative ways to resolve cases. If courts are closed, private mediations are still available through video conferencing. Talking to the other side about settlement and perhaps coming to an interim agreement, which could become a final one.

Recognizing that in one moment, everything can change gives us a different perspective on what is really important in our lives, and what we want to accomplish through the litigation process. Fostering kindness and compassion will serve all of us well, even after the current crisis is over.

Taking action

If your dispute is not one that lends itself to mediation or out of court settlement, I would encourage you to deal with fear and uncertainty in other pragmatic ways. Court closures and getting cases heard is something that you can’t control. We know that our minds tend to create doomsday scenarios that add to the stress of litigation.

Here are some practical ways to help deal with fearful thoughts. (These techniques may also help manage stress during litigation.)

  • Consider reducing your news consumption. The fear and panic created by the continuous newsfeed are affecting mental health and exacerbating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
  • Every time you have a fearful thought, say the word STOP; then bring yourself to the present moment. Look around you and find five things you can see, four things you can smell, three things you can touch (following social distancing and safety directives, of course), two things you can taste, and one thing you can feel. You can then say to yourself, “Even though it’s stressful not knowing when I will get to resolve this case, I cannot control this. I can either use this time to live in fear and panic, or I can use this time to do something positive for me.” Read a book, catch up on work, do a craft, spend time with family, etc.
  • A good way to combat fearful thoughts and anxiety is to do something for someone else. You can still video chat with someone who may need to see a friendly face. Or you could text or email those who are alone and would love words of encouragement. Some of my clients have created video group calls while they talk and eat lunch from their respective homes.
  • Walking in nature, yoga, tai chi, dancing, or any other physical activity that takes your mind away from ruminating thoughts, recharges, and energizes the mind and body.
  • Meditation also gives your mind a break from ruminating thoughts and lets your body and mind recharge. There are numerous meditations on YouTube for all levels of expertise, which are very helpful for those wanting to start a meditation practice.
  • Your practice does not have to involve sitting in a lotus position for a long time. It could be as easy as focusing on relaxing music for a little while and bringing your focus back to the music every time your mind wanders.
  • Measured breathing is a great way to reduce uncomfortable bodily sensations. For example: take a belly breath (diaphragm breathing) to a count of 4, hold to a count of 5, then release to a count of 6.
  • Doing this a few times will send a message to your body that all is well and will create a calming effect. You can find diaphragm breathing demonstrations on YouTube.  https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/uz2255

Patience is hard to cultivate when all you want to do is get this ordeal over with. In time, life will get back to normal, but meanwhile, we can all do our part by fostering kindness, compassion, accommodation, and love toward our fellow human beings. Remember: this too shall pass. We have the potential to come out of this storm a better, stronger, kinder, and healthier society. It’s all up to us.

Tania Perlin, Toronto, Canada

image from unspash.com

ZOOM for Affordable Divorce

 

Laury Adams, mediator and independent financial resource consultant, explains how to use video conferencing to manage your divorce during the pandemic.

“Sheltering in Place” that forces families together can also tear families apart. COVID-19 has drastically affected both stable and unstable relationships. People confronting divorce already feel a torrent of emotion, so when an unexpected crisis hits, that flood turns into a tsunami. It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed. Extreme emotions can result in either inappropriate, impulsive behaviors or paralyzed inaction. When it seems impossible to create positive outcomes, it is important not to worsen negative situations.

Prepare for an affordable ZOOM divorce:

  1. Think of how you can deal with conflict without “throwing gas on the fire.” Marriage partners are business partners. You will each need something from the other person. Communication is essential. If plans cannot be worked out together, seek the assistance of an appropriate professional. This is the time for online video conferencing.
  2. While you are in a marital relationship, remember that the assets and debts accrued by either party are characterized as “community,” (joint) unless gifts or inheritance.   During divorce, it is necessary to make full disclosure and verify values prior to negotiating a property division.  Whether living together or apart, either partner’s financial transactions have legal and tax consequences for the other. For example, if one partner withdraws money from a retirement plan, there will be tax consequences. If either person increases debts on credit cards, it is a community debt while still married.
  3. If you thought financial plans were unnecessary in the past, this is a time to change. Begin by creating a“financial photo,” an inventory to fully disclose everything you own and owe.  Your assets are resources to mutually agree on how they will be managed and used. Your debts are obligations you must pay. Who is contractually liable for mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other debts?
  4. Next create a“financial video,” a moving picture of what is coming in and going out.  A budget is a must even for those who have never used one.  If employment has been terminated, this drastically affects income. What money can you count on in the next 12 months?  Financial resources may be limited, so be realistic about your income.
  5. Expenses:This is the time to create two budgets. It is easiest to determine your current expenses. How have you been spending money during the last months? Now, it may be necessary to create a temporary minimal budget. Start with the essential committed expenses like home mortgage, utilities, auto payment, insurances, gas, food and prescriptions.  How can expenses be reduced – entertainment, clothing, eating out, etc.?  Look at the needs of all family members and prioritize the absolute necessities. “Wants” can be put on a “later” list. Although debts must be paid, make sure your family is assured of food and shelter before making payments to creditors. Call lenders and try to reduce terms for paying your balances.
  6. Tasks: How will your budget be implemented and monitored? Decide on how family members will be responsible and accountable.
  7. If you have dependents in the household, have honest talks about your situation. Form a Financial Committee to use teamwork for temporarily altering the way you live.
  8. Arrange occasional rewards – a popcorn party while renting a current movie, a fast-steppin’ line dance lesson with lively music, or a time playing games with friends via ZOOM.
  9. Arrange a “Parent Care & Share Schedule” so both parents will not be on duty 24/7. Use a color-coded calendar so children know what parent is in charge during the waking hours.

There is no doubt COVID-19 is an external crisis that increases burdens for those already in distress.  By using your computer for video conferencing, assistance is just a click away.

Prepare for working with you mediator or attorney by using Divorce Savvy Saves Money, unique software to make divorce understandable and affordable! For detailed instructions on handling the financial aspects of divorce, watch the seven-minute video on the website, www.DivorceSavvy.com   No fee or registration is required. The program gives step-by-step instructions for creating an Inventory of Assets and Liabilities. Embedded formulas quickly calculate options for a property settlement.  Worksheets are included for creating budgets and parenting.  Your information will be ready for ZOOM screen sharing to save time and money!

When divorce is inevitable, using this program with a divorce professional makes it possible to leave your marriage with your dignity intact and money in your pocket.

Laury Adams, Houston, Texas

originally published: May 17, 2020

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/zoom-affordable-divorce-laury-adams/

Child-friendly tips for separated parents during the COVID-19 crisis

Our colleague, Dr. Dale Bagshaw, offers practical advice and helpful tips for parents to help and guide their children during the lock-down.

When families separate, it can be a sad time for some people, especially for the children, and for parents and grandparents when separated from their children or grandchildren after the break-up. This sadness can increase if children are physically separated from one parent and their grandparents and other members of their extended family during a COVID-19 virus’ lock-down’ period.

Children caught up in the conflict and tension of a family break-up may feel anxious, sad, confused, left out, angry, depressed, or even torn between parents who are dealing with anger and other stresses associated with separation – and these feelings can intensify during the current crisis.

Although this can be a stressful time, try not to fight or argue in front of the children, face-to-face, or when on the phone, as it will increase their anxiety.

Depending on the age of the children, separated families may be able to arrange for children to have meaningful time in each parent’s household, depending on the distancing rules that are placed in your location. If that is not possible, encourage the children to have meaningful and regular contact with both parents and their grandparents – face to face is best but regular contact by telephone (face time), skype or zoom, emails and/or letters can reassure children that they are wanted and loved.

If parents are able to settle their differences and treat each other with respect, it will be reassuring for children to see their parents cooperating during this otherwise stressful time.

Remember that grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins are very important sources of support for children. Phone calls, emails, cards, or a visit can help children to stay connected and feel that they are still part of a family. Make sure that your children can feel free to contact their relatives on both sides of the family – children grieve when they are not able to see people that they are close to.

If you have another partner after separation, and there are children from different families, make sure that they all feel loved and included.

If you are able, take the time to play with your children every day.

If any of your children show signs of being depressed, make sure that you get help for them from someone they love and trust or an expert children’s counsellor – some may Be working online via zoom or skype.

If you, as a parent, are physically unable to be with your children, arrange to spend time with friends or family so that you do not feel lonely, and the children are reassured that you are OK.

If a problem arises, get the facts and make a plan; don’t worry alone – talk to others and ask for help. If you feel depressed or anxious, make sure that you get help from your friends or family – you can also ring a telephone Helpline.

While children, in general, like to see their parents together, there are circumstances when this may not be safe or of benefit for the children. If you and/or your children have experienced violence and abuse, you should not think that you need to spend time with your abusive partner for the benefit of your children. If you or your children feel unsafe, receive threats or experience violence or abuse, contact your Emergency phone number or a Domestic Violence Helpline.”

Dale Bagshaw, Adelaide, Australia

 

image by aaron burden, unspash.com

Commitment over perfection is the way to go

We share reflections from a mediator and quarantined mom, Sarah Ater, from Mombasa, Kenya who reminds us that we are all in an unfamiliar place, without the accustomed routines of daily life to anchor us.

 

Recently, a friend asked how it is at my home with all this staying at home. She said she was wondering whether I encounter any conflict and if I handled it perfectly. She imagined that my home was an isle of peace. After a good laugh, I reminded her that I actually loved conflict and I particularly liked how conflict could bring about new beginnings.

We talk lots- my children and I. Perhaps it’s more of me doing the talking, which is not ideal but it still goes a long way. We know what each one of us likes or dislikes and we try to make our lives compatible. However, there are bad days, worse days, and even worst days when we completely want to get rid of each other- at least, that’s what I sometimes feel like. Today, we just had the third set of 21-day lockdown announced. After 42 days indoors, we are now looking at spending 63 days with each other without much choice.

I am fortunate to have some space around the house. So I can spend time in another room or ask them to go play outside. That helps me relax and keep my boat steady as Delma Sweeney would say. Finding balance and keeping peace at home at this time can be difficult even for mediators like myself. Sometimes, we say or do things that aggravate situations or even create undesirable scenes. Later when we look back, we see that we could have acted differently.

So even though I am not perfect, I don’t beat myself because faltering and falling is part of the journey. So long as I stay committed to the journey, it’s okay because my commitment will triumph!

Sarah Ater is a practising mediator in Mombasa, Kenya. A lover of conflict and words, she uses words to share stories about her experiences in conflict and with people in conflict.

Image by francesco patrinostro, unspash.com

Sheltering together and navigating apart – Fridge magnet philosophy

This is the article from the “Trapped together when you want to separate” section of the book. Thanks to Mary-Anne Popescu from Canada for the contribution.

 

In uncertain times, I find myself drawn to the simple wisdom that fridge magnets promote. Magnet “philosophies” like “Keep Calm and Carry On” are exactly what we need right now, but how do families do that when the stress of separation creates additional burden?  

Magnet 1: “To Build a Bridge, You Have to Start on Both Shores” 

What do you know for sure about the conflict? Can you see your partner’s shore?  Does your partner intend to irritate you as, for example, you notice them only selectively listening to you?  What impact does that have on you?  Feeling unheard could be the first response; what else is going on for you?  What if you were able to ask a curious question about their behaviour? What if the assumption you tied to their behaviour is incorrect, and the explanation less antagonistic than you thought?

Insight Mediation is a model used very successfully in family mediation; it takes us past the “certainty-of-knowing” and helps us listen for new information. 

Imagine meeting an old friend at the grocery store, without it being a strategic operation with gloves, masks, and steady supplies of disinfectant. What would you hope to tell them about your relationship with your ex-partner? Is it possible that in these challenging times spent together sheltering-in-place you have come to understand each other better, to have built a bridge that you walked across together, to celebrate your co-parenting relationship? 

Magnet 2: “Conflict is Inevitable, Combat is Optional” 

Many families have the added stress of sheltering-in-place after a decision to separate has been made.  The option to be outside the house and give each other room has been erased. You already know what irritates you about your partner’s behaviour, you’ve thought about that a lot along the way, and it is part of the reason for separation.  You are an expert in predicting what will cause tense situations, and what you can now become is an expert in deciding how you will handle it. The conflict is inevitable, the combat is optional. 

What if you didn’t react in the way you normally would when faced with a behaviour that bothered you? What if you could identify the “attack” as a threat to something you care about, and instead of using your usual “defend” strategies, you were able to work on protecting what you value.  So far, nothing about your past conflicts has made any impact toward changing the patterns of interaction, so why not try something else? What about the situation you can control?  The answer is that you can only manage your own response.  It can be jarring for your partner to see you disengage from a conflict. Our patterns of behaviour, even when dysfunctional, are familiar to us, and we tend to like the familiar.  Watch out for your partner trying to bring you back to the combat.  This change in patterns need not be a “sneak attack,” let them in on your experiment, maybe they would be open of the change of “rules of engagement” too. 

Mary-Anne Popescu

Canada

Finding a pathway out of a challenging situation

Here is the first article from our new book. We hope you find it useful. Thank you Margaret and Greg.

You find yourself suffering emotional and financial stress because of the pandemic lockdown. What do you do? How do you find a way out? 

The first answer to these questions is that there is no answer. Well, no one answer.

There are a lot of pathways out, but which one do you take? Again, there is no answer to this question? Well, no one answer.

You can start by trying a different way of thinking – Let the answer find you. 

So how do you let the answer find you?

Well, try starting with a non-specific broad goal such as: I want to find the best way of helping discipline my children; I want to find the best way of divorcing my partner while living in the same house or I want to find the best way of co-parenting with my separated partner during the lockdown.

These are called oblique goals. The moment you focus on a specific goal you immediately cut out the many other potential opportunities. Being efficient and focused kills diversity. At the moment you desperately need a diversity of options to find your way out.

So how do I start the journey out? 

Again, start with a different way of thinking. It’s the non-thinking option. Accept that the past is dead, and the future hasn’t happened yet. All you have is the moment you are in. So, be totally present in the moment and be totally observant of what is happening. Observe rather than analyse. You cannot use reason or logic to think yourself out of your current problem.

What do I do next? 

Make a small offer of generosity, a gift or concession without comment. Harness the power of silence and let the offer hang in the air. It is a very powerful position and invokes a sense of reciprocity from the receiver. Something will emerge out of this selfless act on your part. You will receive something in return.

Then what do I do? 

Observe what happens out of the interaction and use your intuition to choose your next move. What is adjacent possible to where you are now that moves you in the direction of your broad aim of finding the best path forward? Small steps are more important than big leaps. As you take each step a whole new world opens of adjacent possibilities. Each step opens fresh diversity. You are now on the path out even though it might wind around in all directions.

If you strike resistance or aggression reflect on how it makes you feel. Try responding by saying “I feel sad (scared, puzzled, anxious, etc)”. Again, use silence to let your comment hang in the air. It’s the opposite of saying “you make me feel sad, etc. it is a non-accusatory approach. By speaking about your feelings, you are holding a mirror up to the person.

Again, observe the interaction and use your intuition to select what is adjacent possible to where I am now that moves me forward in the general direction of my goal.

Margaret Ross and Greg Rooney

Australia

I am no good at making masks, so how can I pitch in during the pandemic?

My son Jacob, an artist, is a member of Idea Fab Labs-Santa Cruz, a “member-driven creation zone.” With a laser cutter he had used for art projects, he cut out material for 5000 face masks. And, he and other artists at the collaborative, are using 3-D printers to produce plastic face shields. This sort of altruistic response to the needs of first responders and health care workers has been repeated countless times throughout the country, and I am sure in other nations. Those who can, do.

But, I wondered, what could I contribute? Donating to food banks and other causes, certainly. Is there something more I could do, as part of the human community that might make a difference?

As I was considering these questions, Peter Nicholson proposed a book about managing differences in families who are under incredible stress as their lives have been turned upside down as a result of the coronavirus. And, in that instant, the desire to be helpful and the means to do so came together.

And, it turns out, I wasn’t the only family practitioner with a similar desire. Within 2 weeks, Peter and I had recruited more than 70 experts to contribute their advice and tips as part of a book, Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During a Pandemic. In the end, to produce this book required the selfless efforts of over 80 people—authors, designers, editors, illustrators.

We directed our advice to three family situations:

  • living together, trying to manage parenting, working from home, home schooling and unsettled finances;
  • living together, and managing the same challenges, but one or both of the couple have decided to separate and end the relationship; and
  • separated or divorced and grappling with new methods for co-parenting and dealing with changes in their economic situation for one or both.

In the outstanding collection of essays, there are tips for managing disagreements, guidelines for handling children’s needs, information about finances, and even a recipe for Quarantine Cookies.

Everyone involved has participated generously, invested their time and creativity to produce a book that we all hope will make a difference.

As editor, along with my fellow contributors, owe a huge debt to the efforts of Peter Nicholson and employees at his company, OGX. As volunteers, they designed and produced the book, developed the companion website and created promotional material. Visit: www.ogx.ie Email: info@ogx.ie.

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