Asking a couple who are divorcing or separating to practice social distancing from each other is second nature in normal circumstances, as most contact post-separation is minimal, usually only to organise parenting time with their children.
But these are not normal times or circumstances. The perverse cruelty of the Coronavirus pandemic is that separating couples and their children are finding themselves holed up together for an indefinite period, adding to the tension, anger and bitterness that so often accompany the split.
With no escape route to family or friends during COVID-19, there is a real risk that conflict will simmer and boil over and even lead to violence. In England and across Europe there has been a spike in the number calls to the police and domestic abuse helplines.
So how can couples caught in the Coronavirus trap stop things spiralling out of control during the lockdown?
These survival guidelines should help
Creating boundaries is essential
Apportion household tasks and activities with the children, so that neither party feels that they are doing more or less than the other, or not getting a fair split of time with the children
Agree not to talk about the relationship and the reasons for it ending
Structure activities with the children within an agreed time frame
Agree on a schedule of time out from the children and each other, so that you can each have your own space. Take advantage of the once a day exercise permitted under lockdown, so that you can go out and switch off
Express any disagreements and frustrations without resorting to shouting in front of the children. If an issue is likely to escalate, agree not to talk about it face-to-face. Either put it to one side or agree to only communicate via email, text or WhatsApp. Agree to keep communication factual, without insults or blaming. Apart from anything else, this method of dealing with conflict will give the children a healthier model of relationships
Keep track of household expenditure if money is a problem. Agree on contributions towards the groceries and other essential items
Keep your distance, physically and verbally
If you are already in a new relationship, keep communication with the new partner private
Unless it can be done amicably, do not discuss the main issues that you need to resolve in the future (arrangements for the children and the split of family assets.
These simple rules should help to instil some structure into a temporary but stressful situation and also ease tensions.
This awful pandemic is forcing us to do everything differently, from the way we work and interact to coming to terms with social distancing and the two-metre rule and surviving isolation and loneliness. Whilst keeping two metres apart in the home is not possible for most, one positive that might arise from COVID-19 is that we all might learn to communicate in a better, kinder way once things are back to normal.
Perhaps the new normal for separating couples stuck under the same roof is that they will forge a new relationship with their ex, as housemates and friends.
Laceys family and mediation departments remain open, providing advice, support and assistance to clients during this difficult period. Unfortunately, we are currently unable to undertake meetings in the office but we are able to conduct MIAM appointments or mediation sessions via Skype rather than having to be postponed.