The last few months have been strange, to say the least. With seemingly mixed understanding of the danger outside, the Government asked us to stay inside as much as possible and closed businesses and schools. Whilst key and essential workers carried on the majority of people were either furloughed or asked to work from home juggling caring responsibilities at home and often remotely for wider family members.
As a family law solicitor the fact we are in different boats navigating this same storm has been reinforced by the nature of enquiries and instructions I have received.
Separated parents in lockdown
The nature of my professional role means I have to be sensitive to the emotional state of each and every client if I am to be successful in understanding their needs as well as navigating them through the necessary processes for which they may not feel they are ready. COVID19 lockdown has heightened those emotional states displayed so very differently by each individual. This has been most notable for separated parents seeking to resolve child arrangements in lockdown.
Separated parents experience strong emotions which can be very primal driven by fear, of losing their children, anger or vengefulness over the separation, and even feelings of utter confusion. The impact of lockdown on our well-being and perception of the ‘risk outside’ has, for some, compounded these strong emotions further, usually with a very strong and opposite reaction from the other parent. With high levels of adrenaline and cortisol being released into the body making these emotions all-consuming rational thought and decision making is inevitably impacted.
On lockdown existing Court proceedings were immediately impacted by a closure of the Courts. Luckily, and fairly swiftly, remote hearings were introduced for some more straight-forward cases. Whilst some cases, particularly substantial financial disputes on divorce, have seen delay due in part to the impact on the economy and the value of businesses and other assets in dispute, the Courts have been dealing with child arrangements cases remotely by telephone and video hearings. And, as lawyers we’ve worked hard to establish ordered arrangements suitable to both parents whilst allowing for lockdown requirements and health issues.
Kindness more important than ever
What has struck me most during lockdown, from Facebook groups to professional discussions and virtual conferences, is the underlying importance of kindness and understanding as we go through this pandemic.
I would hope that my clients and colleagues would describe me as kind and compassionate in how I practice family law, even prior to this pandemic. But it has been wonderful to work more collaboratively with opposing solicitors, working together to reach compromise as heightened tensions have been acknowledged during these unprecedented times.
This crisis has highlighted for me the importance of understanding emotional states, and the thought that this is a skill to develop and not forget as we return to a ‘new normal’ in our lives. A few lessons I’d like to share:
Trust is so important
Parenting with someone you no longer trust often ignites fear, however illogical that may be, over whether the other parent will return the children, whether they can sufficiently care for them, and so on, despite the fact these were perhaps never issues during the relationship. Both parties need to be reminded of their parental responsibility and role in their child’s life, albeit that this will be in a different form, but more importantly that the needs and best interests of the children should be the paramount consideration in seeking to reach agreement with their now ex-partner.
Emotions can get in the way of logic and clear decision making
Mixed emotions can lead to emotional turmoil which can make it very difficult for someone to see beyond their own emotional needs. This makes it harder to focus on giving clear instructions to their solicitor but also considering the other person. In the face of this it is essential that a lawyer can stay calm and non-judgmental explaining what will happen during process and the impact of decisions being made.
Inertia can be a real barrier
Going through such significant life changes on separation can lead to not wanting to let go, or lacking confidence to move forward and take what can be very bold, brave steps towards the new chapter to allow children to move happily and confidently between two homes and co-parent remotely.
We’re being asked to wear face masks to reduce risk of infection, but it seems to me they also show the people walking towards us that we are considerate of their emotional needs and their potential anxiety of being out in public. If we can come out of lockdown with consideration, compassion and kindness to strangers I hope that we can continue this kindness in difficult times in our personal lives, extending kindness towards those we once loved, particularly where there are children unknowingly caught in the middle of their parents’ emotional states.
Family law solicitor Bristol