Coping With Divorce and Homeschooling
In this blog, FLiP’s in-house counsellor, Jo Harrison offers advice and top tips on how best to deal with the pressures of homeschooling whilst in the midst of a divorce or separation.
Dealing with the legal aspects of divorce – perhaps preparing disclosure, sorting out bank statements, answering questions from your lawyer, or checking a statement that has been prepared for you – is a huge task, even in normal times. It requires a new set of resources, energy and time that have to be fitted in to daily life. This is in addition to the emotional turmoil that a separation can bring.
At FLiP we are very aware that our clients are now not only dealing with these pressures that the legal process of divorce requires but are also possibly having to fit them in whilst also homeschooling or caring for someone. It may feel that there is no space to be able to do what needs to be done and it may feel like yet another person is demanding something when a lawyer asks for a reply to a question or when a document needs to be finalised.
Reflecting on this within our team at FLiP we wanted to think about how best to support clients trying to plough on through the legal process in these pressured times. We found the analogy of a pressure cooker helpful. How can we stop the lid of the cooker blowing off? AKA how to stop the legal process becoming overwhelming?
There are different ways to deal with a pressure cooker. Either take it off the heat before it gets too hot. Or open the valve to find a way to let the steam out.
Taking the “divorce cooker” off the heat
Flagging up to your solicitor when it feels like it’s starting to get too much, before it gets too much, may help keep everyone in touch with what feels manageable in the circumstances. It may be that the solicitors and clients can work together to create realistic deadlines and to understand what things are priorities and what aren’t. Getting the bank statements may feel like an urgent task because you’ve been asked to do it but it actually may not need to be done for some time. Lawyers need to hand out jobs and tasks but it’s also within the client’s rights to check in on which jobs need doing and when.
This question of prioritising is really important at the moment. There may be some things that have to fall by the wayside. Trying to work out how to keep things simple, whether that is not doing all the homeschooling, or letting the house get messy, is really important. We loved this message from a headteacher which embodied the spirit of this approach:
Thinking about what can wait can help to take the heat out of the situation. Working with your lawyer to negotiate what feels possible at your end is crucial.
Being smart and working out self-care strategies such as not getting into time consuming debates with one’s ex that also leave you feeling worn out or emotionally eaten up may be necessary for self-preservation. It may feel really tempting to take some of the feelings about the situation out on a person you are feeling particularly upset with but it may also draw you into something that will end up using up valuable resources. This is not necessarily the time to settle long running disputes about different approaches to parenting or education. More important is to focus on short term capacity.
Finding ways to release the valve
Thinking about strategies that help let some of the “hot air” out are also helpful. When feelings are running high and you are stuck on your own in a house with kids and mess, you may need to find a way to let off steam without taking it out on those around you. Letting the kids watch TV while you have a bath, phoning a friend, doing a 10 minute yoga video – all (to coin a phrase) “circuit breakers”, to help give you some space on your own.
Make use of the allowed support bubbles as far as possible. This may mean asking friends for more help than you are used to and it may feel difficult to enter into a dialogue with someone to ask for support but it is important to try and work creatively so as to avoid the feeling of being isolated.
It may be possible to work together with your ex to support the situation. There is a saying that getting divorced requires couples to work together more than ever and at a time like this, this becomes even more true. We have heard of co-parents where one of them was afflicted with Covid and his ex made sure that he had all his shopping done for him and that he was doing okay. This helped support the children who were worried about their dad and took the pressure off them.
Giving each other a few days off the homeschooling by taking it in turns can also help relieve the pressure. Another set of co-parents play to their strengths – one is particularly good at IT and is there at the end of the phone where necessary while the other one deals with the arts and crafts side of things over Zoom.
In these circumstances it may be more important than ever for lawyers acting for a couple to find helpful creative alliances that take the heat out of the situation – whether temporary or final arrangements but nevertheless solutions that help families make it through these hopefully short term but pressured times.
Counselling may feel like just another thing to add to the to do list at the moment but we recognise at FLIP that this is not necessarily the moment to start in depth long term work. More realistic in this situation is short term therapeutic interventions which focus on support and how to mobilise resources – particularly between co-parents. Having that extra space can be a relief and can be a way to let out and process some of the difficult feelings.
Jo Harrison is an in-house counsellor and family consultant at Family Law in Partnership. She has a depth and breadth of expertise in working with clients who are separating or divorcing and is sensitive to the impact of relationship breakdown and how it can affect individuals and families. As a relationship counsellor, Jo fully appreciates the emotional upheaval and difficulties of a separation and as a former family lawyer she understands the particular pressures of going through the legal process.