Divorcing during a pandemic: How to protect your mental health

This year has been unlike any other, with its challenges stretching family relations and bonds to their very limits. Enforced working from home and the closure of schools and nurseries in spring put a strain on many relationships, some of which have not made it this far unscathed. Here Georgina Rayment, explains how individuals can preserve their mental wellbeing in a divorce during such difficult times.

For many of us, our way of life was flipped on its head in March, tilted slightly back towards the norm over summer and then flipped once more during a second national lockdown in November.

Such a chaotic nine months was unlikely to lead us all towards the new year in perfect orderly households and model relationships.

Sadly, many of us have struggled with the burden of uncertainty and our mental health has suffered as a result.

Breakdowns in relationships and, in some cases, divorces caused by the pandemic will be much more difficult to handle with poor mental health.

What are the facts?

A recent YouGov poll for Resolution, the national body for family lawyers, has revealed that a poll of 1,000 people who divorced over five years ago found that 29% reported mental health difficulties, such as depression and anxiety at the time.

Another poll of 1,000 people who divorced within the last five years found that 41% of people reported similar mental health difficulties.

Furthermore, 53% of people in the later poll said that they wanted to put their children at the heart of the process but found it difficult.  Almost 37% said that their partner had tried to use the children as bargaining chips in the process.

Of those surveyed within the last five years, 63% felt that if they had had earlier access to professional advice, where legal rights and options are made clear from the outset, this would have improved their personal experience during divorce.

What should I be aware of?

Even more important than understanding legal rights and options is understanding how to approach divorce in a healthy and constructive way. 

Often, mental health difficulties in divorce arise from a sense of shock, grief, anger, bewilderment and a feeling of helplessness. 

All good family lawyers will know that the emotional journey a client goes on during a divorce or separation features peaks of positivity and troughs of disappointment. 

It is perfectly possible, however, to emerge into the ‘new normal’ of life post-divorce with optimism. 

How can I preserve my mental health in divorce?

  • Get counselling – being brutally honest in a neutral environment about how you feel or how you are behaving is vital for letting off steam and reframing negative thoughts.  Counselling can be arranged privately, through a GP, or through a HR department at work. 
  • Know that it is okay to not feel okay - this is perfectly normal. Nobody has all the answers. If you are feeling overwhelmed, be honest with yourself and family, friends, or colleagues. Ask for their support to take time out for yourself, even for an hour or so, and do something you enjoy to give your mind an opportunity to settle and refresh.   
  • Mediate – mediation is used to excellent effect in divorce because it encourages cathartic face-to-face dialogue which is managed constructively by the mediator to give positive forward momentum. Mediation gives a sense of control and creativity because, unlike the legal process, mediation does not limit what is discussed and agreed. Finances, children, wider family relationships, even pets, can be discussed and solutions found.
  • Find a family lawyer who works round table to reduce conflict - this makes a positive statement to your ex about how you want to manage the legal process of divorce and future co-parenting.
  • Be honest with your family lawyer – tell them if you are having a bad day. Explain what is worrying or concerning you and be honest if you do not understand advice they have given or the process ahead of you. If you do not have a lawyer you can chat to, you are not using the right lawyer.

Better times ahead

The benefits of hiring the services of an experienced and compassionate family lawyer during a divorce have long been known.

But with the coronavirus pandemic having piled extra stress and anxiety onto new and previous cases, expert guidance is more important now than ever before.

Just as we will need support from those around us to see us through to a post-pandemic return to normality, those enduring a divorce will need the support of lawyers they can trust to help them begin a new chapter in their lives.

The Family Law Team at Prettys Solicitors offer bespoke legal advice that address your specific needs and circumstances to help you navigate divorce effectively.

Contact us today for more information on 01473 232121.

Georgina Rayment
Partner, Head of Family, Mediator