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Progressing in Your Family Law Case when the World is at Standstill

Let me guess – you were tracking along in your separation but now feel any progress has hit a standstill as we enter another lockdown.

Maybe you were about to initiate your separation but lockdown occurred and you are now forced into continuing to live with one another 24/7.

Perhaps you wonder whether you can ever make any progress? It can feel frustrating and emotionally constricting, if we feel unable to control the direction and pace of our lives. However, even in lockdown, there are steps you can control and take so you can still progress ahead. Here’s how…

Get your information together – did your lawyer or financial professional ask you a while ago to gather up information? Are those tasks are still hanging over you? Are you dreading diving into the paperwork involved with your separation? Now is the perfect time to get on top of such tasks, clear them off your to-do list (and out of your mental space) so that this doesn't block progress any longer.

Perhaps you were just thinking about separating when lockdown struck. Use this time to prepare your thoughts about how you want to transition through this next chapter and considering the resolution processes that may help you achieve this. Use this time to gather up information about your finances so that you have this at hand when its needed.

Redesign your Co-Parenting Relationship – you may not have enjoyed a positive co-parenting relationship previously but now is an ideal time to change that for the future. There is nothing like a time of collective crisis to have a shift in perspective – just ask those who went through the Christchurch earthquakes!

I am in awe of my clients who have been working together with their exes since lockdown to ensure their children come through this as strongly as possible. How can you band together to help your children’s family bubble thrive? What past grievances is it time to let go of for your own wellbeing and that of your children? How can you support your children’s relationship with their other parent?

Even if it feels you are too far gone to resurrect a healthy co-parenting relationship, just take a small step. Just asking how your ex is doing at this time, being flexible or focusing on reacting constructively to things that would ordinarily annoy you can all go a long way towards building goodwill that will last beyond lockdown. The saying tells us that it takes two to tango but - it only takes one to stop the tango.

You can Still Get Things Resolved – The Family Court in NZ will only deal with the most urgent priority cases during lockdown. Those usually are cases involving protecting vulnerable people. The good news is that non-litigious methods of resolving disputes can still all be used, even in lockdown. Mediation, Collaborative Practice, Family Dispute Resolution – all can be used at this time using audio-visual conferences. I've been using these conferences with clients for a while and can report they are simple to use and remarkably effective - even in the most difficult disputes! Family Lawyers have also been finding ways to ensure that if agreements are reached, they can be signed and witnessed without meeting in person!

Step Away From Court - if you are in the midst of Court proceedings or were about to file proceedings, take a step back and consider whether your differences may be worked through differently. Do yourself, your children and your wallet a favour and look to other ways to work through issues – FDR, mediation, collaborative practice can all still be undertaken. If your lawyer isn’t receptive to these options or doesn’t offer them, talk to another one about whether there is an alternative that may work in your situation.

Take Stock – for many, lockdowns can bring significant changes to employment and finances. Now is a good time to take stock of what the changes for you are or might be. How are your property and finances likely to change? What new problems or concerns are keeping you awake? Don't panic - you don’t need to find solutions to these problems right now and, in fact, they will likely take some time and creative problem solving to work through. However, the first step to finding solutions is being clear on what new challenges have surfaced and communicating those to your professional team.

Get Ahead with Your Lawyer or Professional Team – This is not our first lockdown rodeo and experience tells us that demand for family lawyers is going to get heavier afte lockdown. Now is the time to get ahead of this by meeting online with your lawyer to talk through any problems or issues you foresee, to brainstorm those and get a plan for progression in place so you each know what the other is to do in the coming weeks.

Be Gentle on Yourself and Each Other – You may feel you are being hit doubly hard as you work through the emotions and stresses of your separation or wanting to separate and the stresses and emotion of another lockdown. There is no rule book for how to emotionally weather this storm. None of us will get it perfect so be gentle with yourself. In many respects, the best way you can progress through your separation during lockdown is to take good care of yourself, physically and mentally. Lockdown gives us all a great opportunity to use this finite period of time to set an intention about how we want to be when we come out the other side and feel a sense of making progress towards that. How do you want to feel out when lockdown ends and what do you need to do each day to support achieving this?

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