It’s a phone call I will never forget.

A 75-year old woman who’s been self-isolating with her husband came to the conclusion she’d had enough of him. She told me she wants a divorce.

Turns out, the government isolation orders forced her to reflect on her life and her relationship. And she’s decided to end the marriage when she and her husband emerge from the COVID-19 Stay-at-home bubble.

Another call I received came at night. Police had to be brought in to remove a physically abusive spouse from the home amid the COVID-19 isolation. Alcohol was a factor. Children were in the home.

And then there’s the spouse who decided during isolation that she wanted to be in a relationship with the live-in nanny. The husband remains in the home and all three are now raising the children.

For me, the uptick in calls, emails, and inquires related to COVID-19 factors is 30 to 35 per cent. There was one week this month in which every single contact with a client or potential client stemmed from COVID-19 issues affecting the relationships.

The most common question is “can I kick him/her out of the house during the COVID lockdown?”   The answer is no unless the circumstances are extreme.

But there are solutions.  As a divorce lawyer with formal training in Collaborative Law, I advise clients that it’s almost always possible to find an answer which doesn’t involve standing before a judge.

In the last few weeks, I have orchestrated what I call COVID-cohabitation agreements. These are legal separation agreements that apply to couples living within the same house.  They are assigned separate spaces, roles within the family, financial obligations, and even designated times to spend with children.

In fact, the single most common statement I get from clients is “I don’t want the kids to hate me.”

I tell them on the very first consultation (which is free), that the two most important decisions they will make involve choosing the right lawyer and choosing the right process. Choosing properly can save them time, money, and most certainly emotional hardship. The last thing most people want is the super-expensive court battle, which places almost all of the biggest decisions about your family and your wealth, in the hands of a third party.

Collaborative lawyers require couples with children to include a social worker to help them best navigate the emotional turmoil of the process. Also, a financial neutral, who logically and methodically works through the delicate issues involving family assets, is mandatory. The goal is to not just protect the children but to complete the process with minimal damage to the children.

Another of the most frequently asked  question I get when someone contemplates divorce is ‘will my children hate me?’ The answer largely depends on the process you choose.

I have several clients now living under the same roof and abiding by the terms of their COVID-cohabitation agreements. I’ve even negotiated shared custody of the family dog.

Family dissolution during this COVID-19 crisis is not easy. But it can work. More than ever, collaborative law is changing the way people divorce.

And when you can’t run away or kick them out, the collaborative approach can be your guide to a legal and somewhat peaceful solution for you ..and your family.

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