Caught by the Coronavirus Crisis During Your Divorce?
How to manage COVID-19 stress on top of divorce stress.
Posted March 17, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
Perhaps you have decided to divorce or are in the initial stages of separation. Or perhaps you have already separated, and you and your ex are sharing time with your children. Suddenly, you are blindsided by the pandemic. On top of all the stress of the divorce, now we have the stress of the quarantine. What should you expect and what should you do?
From a mental health perspective, quarantine has a huge impact on everyone. If it lasts for more than a few days, the impact is worse. The research suggests that in the beginning, one might experience stress symptoms, irritability, anger, denial, and confusion.
With a longer quarantine, such as the current quarantine mandated in the San Francisco Bay Area, we also see fears of infection, frustration, loneliness, boredom, and financial loss.
In addition, there are inadequate supplies for health care and often inadequate information, which increases our anxiety. Some people are hoarding, and others find altruism as a way to cope.
For some younger people who are less at risk, it is an opportunity to help seniors and more vulnerable people in the neighborhood by shopping for food or picking up medications. However, many younger people are extremely anxious about their parents or grandparents, which adds to their stress.
The volatility of the market adds another layer of uncertainty as people see their savings disappear almost overnight.
Some people are able to work from home but without childcare. More stress.
Health care workers, emergency responders, and other essential workers risk greater exposure and then bring this home to their families who are struggling without them.
Others are no longer able to go to work and worry whether they will have a job when the crisis passes.
Small business owners fear losing their businesses.
Children, suddenly out of school, are confused and pick up the tensions of their parents.
What if you are still living with your spouse, having recently initiated a divorce or perhaps nesting until the divorce is finalized? The stress of the quarantine piles on more stress as you face an uncertain future. Meetings are canceled, courts are closed, you can’t meet in person with your professionals (attorneys, therapists, financial specialist, etc.) when you are confined to your home. It feels overwhelming to try to manage it all. When your divorce coach or therapist suggests a video session, you wonder how you can possibly do that with your kids confined to the house. The uncertainties of work, fluctuation or drops in home values, and a sinking economy present a challenge when you are trying to negotiate a Marital Settlement Agreement.
So what can you do?
- First, it is most important to take care of yourself. Find ways to connect with friends by phone. Take a walk in a quiet area in nature. Take time to slow down and breathe. Disconnect from news sources as much as possible.
- If you have kids, give them as much information as they can absorb (depending on their ages). Reassure them that this will pass. Even if you feel frightened about how this will unfold, don’t “awful-ize” with your kids.
- Make a list of all the things you’ve been meaning to do and start to work down that list. Finish home projects, read a book, stream a movie, make and deliver food for a neighbor.
- Don’t make impulsive decisions such as selling your stocks or shopping online. Boredom might lure you into unhealthy coping, such as drinking or overeating. Social media might be helpful. Try to stay active, call friends for “tea dates” by phone. Start writing a journal. Don’t overlook the silver lining: more time with your kids, more time to relax, cleaning and organizing your house. This is an opportunity to build some trust and goodwill with your spouse, if you can find ways to express appreciation or compassion.
- Discuss ways to proceed with your professionals. If you and your spouse want to stop the legal process for a while, you can do that. Agree to pause before trying to settle major financial issues. No big decisions in a crisis, and this is a crisis.
- If you would like to continue working on the divorce, discuss what is realistic. Video conference calls can be an effective way to have group meetings. Many lawyers are accustomed to video conference calls.
- If you are not already working with a CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) consider consulting with one now. With all the economic uncertainties, you’ll need help with budgeting and settling financial issues such as spousal support, child support, and division of assets and debts.
- Get support. One client (with teenaged children) had a FaceTime call with her therapist from her car in the garage. You can work with a divorce coach to help you through the divorce process.
- If you are still living with your spouse, wishing you could separate, you can create an on- and off-duty parenting schedule so that you each get a break, and you will be less triggered by your spouse. You can read more about nesting here.
- If you have been sharing time with your children, discuss whether your kids will be quarantined at one parent’s home or the other’s. It may also be possible to keep to your time-sharing schedule as the quarantine may allow the transfer of your children from one home to the other.
We are all in this together, and it will resolve. Recognize that this is a crisis for everyone. During this stressful time, remember that you and your spouse (or ex) are both under extreme pressure. Cut each other some slack as you both find ways to adapt and cope with this new (temporary) reality. If you have other ideas, please add them to the comment section below.
© Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 2020