Family & Divorce

Coronavirus, separation and divorce: What should I do?

Coronavirus has hit us at an alarming speed.  I personally didn’t expect this to happen so quickly because everything I was reading and seeing on the news was happening in China and Italy which is so far away from home.  Now as I sit in my home office and prepare this blog, and each time I watch the news, reality has hit that this is real and that I am not an extra in a blockbuster movie.

It’s frightening to know that, Coronanvirus or not, the world keeps turning.

Life keeps going.

Just a fair bit differently.

As a family lawyer, I am finding myself advising my clients very differently from the way I would normally.

Here are some tips and hints that may assist you in making decisions in relation to your separation, divorce or family law matter during these uncertain times.

“Do I stay or do I go” during the COVID-19 epidemic

DO NOT separate if you are contemplating leaving your relationship and I say this for the following reasons:

  • Your home is one of the safest places to be in order to avoid COVID-19. However, if risk of physical harm or violence towards you and your children is an issue then of course leave to a safe and environmentally friendly abode.
  • Hotels, B&B’s or Shelters are risky options for alternate accommodation.  You do not want to compound problems by putting yourself or your children at risk. There are also difficulties associated with ensuring vacancies are available – especially at this point in time.
  • Finding a lawyer to represent you on an urgent basis during these times may deem difficult given most lawyers are working remotely and some firms may have downsized their resources in order to get through this difficult time.  Our firm is very fortunate in that we are well equipped with the infrastructure to withstand these difficult times and continue to serve the community well.
  • The courts have imposed restrictions on what matters they will hear and further how these matters are being heard.  The social distancing policies have already started to impact on client’s court cases.

Should I divide my assets during COVID-19?

Ordinarily, I would encourage the division of assets promptly from separation.  On this occasion and in this current global crisis dividing assets during the COVID-19 epidemic is not recommended!  So you are asking why such a change in advice?  My reasoning is this…

Lawyers are already seeing how the significant down turn in our economy is affecting the value of their client’s property pool and therefore given the uncertainty of our economy and the instability of the market, the most commercial thing to do would be hold off from dividing assets until this global crisis is behind us and the market stabilizes.  Of course the supply and demand rationale applies here so do not panic because of separation. Now this doesn’t that you sit on your hands and not obtain independent legal advice in the interim.  It is advisable given the rapid day-to-day changes, that advice is required.  This will not cost you a fortune either.  For those going through separation, and owning a business right now, it not a time to make rash decisions because the value of the business may change significantly due to the impact of this virus.  Maintaining the viability of the business should be your paramount consideration.

Will COVID-19 affect my child or spousal support?

Lets call a spade a spade – all of our jobs are in jeopardy right now and the vast majority of the Australian population are financially stressed.  As opposed to stressing your former spouse out in relation to child or spousal support – try and meet one another half way.  Instead, try to compassionately reach some agreement to at least pay for what is financially beneficial for the future.  Work together and come up with a plan as to how you will weather the storm and pay for the things that matter the most, which is your  and your children’s health and preserving the asset pool.  Don’t be greedy as realistically we are in uncertain times and temporary solutions will serve us well in the future.   We all have to be adaptable and flexible during this difficult time and whilst I appreciate that this can be difficult with a former spouse the future results will be well worth it.  So don’t be stubborn.

 

I am scared that COVID-19 will affect the time I can spend with my children and my ability to travel with them.

 Children are innocent bystanders in this nasty hit in life.  As a child you wouldn’t expect to see this sort thing as it only happens in the movies.  As a child I never dreamt living through this.  I certainly never dreamt of not being able to buy toilet paper!  I recommend completely suspending any physical time with your children if you are at risk of Coronavirus or have tested positive.  After all, no judge will put a child at such risk.

Technology is so advanced so take advantage of it.  Speak to your children over the phone, Skype or FaceTime them.  Once this is over and we are all out of harms way, meaningful physical contact can resume.

The recommendation from the Government is do not travel. So don’t! Most countries have now put in place bans on international and state travel so save the argument for when it actually means something.

Covid-19’s impact on our community and the world at large has happened so rapidly it has been hard to keep up.  These significant life changing events, most certainly impact those already going through hardship – especially those going through separation and divorce.

The most compassionate advice I can give to anyone who reads this right now is be sensible, calm and patient. If you want to finalise matters so you can move on or if you want to get the ball rolling despite these times, you can still get preliminary advice at a cost that is reasonable.

I offer a Coffee with a Lawyer appointment which gives 30 minutes of advice on your matter for $50, and during this Covid-19 period of self-isolation I am happy to offer this service online via FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or similar. My past clients have greatly appreicated the relaxed and informal nature of these meetings, where they get a chance to get everything off their chest and achieve some clarity about their situation.

You can book an appointment here.