With the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) expanding throughout Texas while Denton, Collin, Dallas, and Tarrant counties issue stay-at-home orders, many couples are struggling with a problem they may not have had to deal with in a long time (if ever)—spending a massive amount of time stuck in the house with both their children and their spouse.
As you might imagine (or might even be experiencing yourself), this can be a stressor of epic proportions. Emotions are already running high. Your spouse or children may be extremely fearful of the future (and you might be too).
There may be a lot of tension as you and your spouse struggle to get the kids to do their homework and participate in their new online class schedule. You may both be working from home for the first time, working increased or reduced hours, or without a job. These situations can be difficult to navigate in the best of times.
If you have been thinking of getting a divorce for a while, this situation absolutely has the potential to push you over the edge. We already have reports that a Chinese city is experiencing higher rates of divorce as a result of the pandemic, so the idea is not as far fetched as it might seem.
That being said, we like to think of divorce as a last resort. It is a life-altering decision that, for most people, is permanent.
The Coronavirus Pandemic Is NOT Permanent—Divorce IS
This pandemic is not permanent. It will pass, and the stress it adds to your life will pass. With the right resources and skills, you can get through it without allowing the additional stress to push you into a premature decision on divorce.
Now it may be the case that divorce is where you will end up, but we always urge our clients to investigate all possibilities and resources before moving forward. If divorce is unavoidable, you need to be entering it with a well-thought-out plan that works best for all parties (especially your children).
The last thing you need to be doing is rushing into divorce because your spouse and kids are driving you nuts during the pandemic. This is a surefire way to end up with an acrimonious divorce that ultimately hurts you, your spouse, and your children.
If You Are In an Abusive Situation, Take Action—The Police and Courts Are Still Available to Help You
Now remember, there is always an exception if you are in an abusive situation. We are seeing domestic violence incidents spike as a result of the “stay-at-home” and “shelter-in-place” orders. If you are experiencing domestic violence and are forced to shelter with your abuser, you do not have to wait this out—you have options and resources.
The courts are absolutely still open right now and can help with protective orders and other resources. Call the police and ask for help. File a report. You can also reach out to Denton County Friends of the Family on their 24/7 hotline.
If you are not in an abusive situation, there are several problem areas that you can work on to avoid getting pushed into a divorce you are not ready for. Here are four critical problem areas you need to address to make it through the coronavirus pandemic without getting divorced.
1. Work Through Financial Difficulties Now
Money is the number one reason for divorce across the country; and with many people losing their jobs, their hours being reduced, or being furloughed/laid off as a result of the pandemic, money problems that previously existed might suddenly shoot through the roof.
Nothing makes money problems worse than the unknown, and right now the coronavirus is causing massive uncertainty across the globe. If you and your spouse already argue about money, now is the time to employ some critical tools to get a better handle on the money you can control.
The most important tool you can use is a budget, but budgets are only worth something if they are put into place quickly and adhered to reasonably. Set a budget too strict, and the partner who is loose with money may feel resentful or controlled (and rebel against the budget).
Set it too loose, and you might as well not have one at all.
Put the budget together today and plan for the worst. If you or your spouse is out of work, assume that will not change any time soon—budget with the money you are sure you have, not money you hope will come back.
No matter what, you and your spouse need to be on the same page. If one of you is a spender and the other is not, hard conversations might have to happen now, and you may need to consider involving a mediator, professional or otherwise, if this is an ongoing problem that the responsible party has not wanted to or been able to solve.
It is better to deal with this now and get a realistic budget in place that all parties agree to rather than have it hanging over your head for weeks or months or more. No one can say how long the pandemic will last, so the sooner you do this, the better.
2. Make a Plan to Deal With Work Stress
A budget can certainly help to relieve the tension, but work is such an integral part of most people’s lives that you have to go further. If you or your spouse have lost work or think you may, you need to work through it and make a plan to deal with it.
Maybe one of you has the opposite problem: you are taking on extra hours. This may be the case if you work in a business that is considered essential (truckers, people in food service, people in the energy business, people in healthcare).
Maybe one of you has to work from home while the kids go to school online. Maybe you both are working from home now. Whatever the case may be, these stressors can mount significantly and worsen existing issues that are already being made worse by the pandemic.
Communication and a plan are the keys to success here. Talk to your spouse about the situation. What is their goal or plan for work in the next 3 months, 6 months, a year? What are your goals or plans? If someone is out of work, are they going to stay at home full time with the kids, or are they going to get part-time work? Are they thinking about changing industries? Are they thinking about going back to school?
Do not focus on what you cannot control here. Make a plan for what you can control. Think about the big picture for your family—what benefits the entire family most that still acknowledges the needs of the individuals? Plan for the short term and the long term, and make sure everyone is on board.
3. Work on Communication
Communication that was already bad is going to become 10 times worse when you are all stuck in the house together. If you do not work on this issue now, you are priming the house for an explosion (or worse, driving yourself or your spouse to act out in harmful ways).
Ultimately, you can not force your spouse to communicate better, but you can work on your own communication skills and lead by example. This is a time to step up and do the things you do not want to do for the betterment of your family (even if your spouse is generally the cause of communication issues).
Be your best self. Think about how you can reach out to your spouse in a way they will be responsive to. How can you use your words and your actions in positive ways? You will want to avoid relationship killers like sarcasm and passive-aggressive behavior. You may need to pick up some of the slack around the house without being asked to (with the kids or chores, even if one or the other is usually your spouse’s responsibility).
If you focus on the good of the family, your family will benefit.
Remember, this is short term—if your spouse does not reciprocate, do not work yourself ragged just to please them. Let them know about your needs as well. Be vocal and clear. Avoid dropping hints or expecting them to figure things out on their own. Let them know where you are at in a way that is clear, polite, and firm, and do so regularly. Let them know your expectations, and if they do not agree, work on compromise.
These tips can be difficult in the best of times, so you may need to remind your spouse that you both need to step up right now to get through this, and you may need to involve a mediator to reach consensus.
4. Take Care of Yourself
Self care is critical in the best of times, but it is especially critical that you give yourself what you can during times of heightened stress to ensure you can endure the stress itself.
If you are going to do everything listed above, you are going to need to keep yourself from burning out. As part of your communication work, communicate about what you need to be okay and get through this. Schedule in that “me” time (in an amount that is reasonable given the situation), and try to stick to it. When your spouse is having their “me” time, respect it.
Many people will have some extra time on their hands during this crisis, so use it effectively to give yourself the breaks you need to get your mind in the right place to work on the more difficult issues already mentioned.
Remember, The Courts Are Still Open—And so Are We
The pandemic has not caused the courts to close, and we do not expect the courts to close in the future. Many courts are still open and are using videoconferencing software for divorce cases.
If the steps above do not work or you are in an abusive situation and need to move your divorce forward now, we are here to help.
We are open during our regular hours and are available to answer all questions about divorce and custody issues. If you are already divorced and have questions about possession or access-to-children issues during the stay-at-home orders, we can answer them.