Making difficult relationship decisions during COVID-19

15 September 2020

Whether you have already separated, are contemplating separation, or are concerned that your significant other may be contemplating separation, we know that the current COVID-19 restrictions are complicating relationship problems for many people like never before.

The prospect of having to make long-term decisions, at such an uncertain time, can be simply overwhelming, daunting and frustrating.

Over the recent months, many of our clients have expressed their concerns about variables such as the:

  • uncertainty of income and employment;
  • sourcing alternative accommodation;
  • lack of adequate time or opportunity to take advice;
  • exposure of conflict to children;
  • health risks to them or their family; and
  • economic impact the pandemic has had on the value of shared assets.

There is no easy solution to these uncertainties, and we understand that the problems you are facing, feel unique to you. We acknowledge that every individual and family is different and that there is no such thing as a one size fits all solution.

Nonetheless, we hope that by sharing a few practical tips based on our extensive experience, you will find the confidence you need to make informed decisions about potential changes to your family dynamic, even if that means separation:

  • Please urgently reach out for help if you are experiencing family violence. Government services continue to operate during the pandemic. You can obtain confidential advice and support from 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or MensLine Australia 1300 789 978). Your safety, and that of your children, is paramount.
  • Try not to make rash decisions. If a decision doesn’t have to be made on the spot, and most don’t, take time to reflect on it, sleep on it and talk about it with a professional, relative or friend where or when you can.
  • If you do need to make an urgent decision, try to find a way to take advice from an appropriate professional, whether it be an accountant, a psychologist, a doctor, a lawyer or a financial planner.
  • Be careful committing to positions or ‘anchoring’ expectations. Committing to a particular outcome based upon a separation in the coming months may not take into account the economic impacts of the pandemic (for example, a change in the value of your assets). It is extremely important not to overcommit yourself.
  • Think very carefully about what you put in writing. Try to avoid reacting to immediate emotions and put the laptop away. Come back to anything you write after reflecting for an hour or two, or more. Ask yourself if would you be willing to let a third party read the communication.
  • Be courteous and respectful to the other party. Whilst there may be many pressures, including confinement and those relating to finances, poor behaviour will not foster amicable relationships in the future. Further, be mindful of the impact that your conflict may be having on your children.
  • If you are considering separating, complete some homework so that you can take advice regarding your options when appropriate. By way of example, you could prepare a short chronology of your relationship with key dates and start to compile relevant financial documents like bank statements in electronic format. You could also start to put together a balance sheet and consider how parenting arrangements may look into the future.
  • With the pandemic forcing many of us to adapt quickly to new ways of communicating, take extra care with personal devices to ensure your privacy. For example:
    • Consider changing your password(s). This is especially important for devices that store personal information (for example, smartphones, tablets and computers and cloudbased storage).
    • Consider setting up a new or private email address. Our clients frequently find it useful to establish a new email address for the purposes of communicating with us. This ensures, for example, that confidential communications do not get lost within work or private email accounts. It also avoids the prospect that your partner / former partner may read a personal communication.
    • Backup important documents. If you store personal documents on your devices, remember to run regular backups. Consider utilising a physical and / or cloudbased backup.
    • Social media. Take extra care and refrain from posting online when you are feeling frustrated, intoxicated, angry or depressed. Ensure that privacy measures are at their highest on any social media platform used.
    • Keep in mind that some information is shared across platforms, for example from your smartphone to your tablet. It can be important to turn that information sharing off.
  • Child psychologists and family therapists are continuing to assist families during COVID-19 restrictions. Their services can be instrumental to improving family dynamics and issues such as communication.
  • COVID-19 has presented many and varying financial effects. If you are concerned about financial obligations which were put in place pre-COVID-19, take advice about whether there are any steps you can take to ease or vary those obligations.
  • Knowledge is power. Speaking with a professional about a particular issue can reduce anxiety and empower you to make informed decisions moving forward.

Our team of experienced and dedicated family lawyers can work with you to help you understand your rights and responsibilities, including during COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown. We structure our professional services to achieve the best possible outcome for your particular circumstances and objectives.

We invite you to get in touch whether by phone, email, text message or other platform such as WhatsApp.

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Barry Nilsson acknowledges the traditional owners of the land on which we conduct our business, and pays respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.
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