Pandemic “pressure cooker” pushes more couples to seek advice on separation and divorce

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Tara Mandarano found herself stressed and frustrated during the COVID-19 lockdown last spring. Like millions of Canadians, she struggled to work from home, help her six-year-old daughter with virtual learning, and deal with the anxieties associated with the unknowns of the new and frightening virus that seemed to be taking over the world.What she didn’t realize, however, was that her life was about to change for good.

“Even as the world closed around me, my marriage continued too,” Mandarano said.

“I don’t blame the pandemic. I think it might have happened anyway, but I think COVID sped up the process and it kind of put us in a pressure cooker that we might not have been in without the pandemic. . ”

After 10 years together and five years of marriage, Mandarano’s husband filed for divorce in August, and her life as she knew it was over.

“It seemed surreal, it seemed like it was happening to someone else, it looked like a nightmare,” said Mandarano, 43.

“I just looked around what my life was going to be like, and I didn’t recognize her. I never imagined it would happen to this. It’s kind of a terrible thing when you realize that you’re not going to live the life you envisioned for yourself. It was devastating. ”

Tara Mandarano’s marriage ended during the COVID-19 lockdown, and she has legal and practical advice for others going through the same experience. 2:15

Mandarano is not alone. While there is no solid statistical data yet, family law lawyers have reported an increase in calls to initiate separations and divorces during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Diana Isaac, a partner at the Shulman & Associates family law firm in Toronto, says she has seen a 40% increase in calls from couples seeking to end their marriage since the start of the pandemic.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in requests,” Isaac said. “We have seen that people whose marriages may be on the verge of breaking up, [they] just broke during the lockdown as they have been confined in the same space for so long, and have had to deal with financial strains and issues with the different approaches to the pandemic to parenting. ”

In fact, so many couples have sought help dissolving their marriages that some divorce companies have started hosting online sessions on how to navigate the legal system.

Edit Farun is a divorce mediator and part of a collaborative team that includes a lawyer and a social worker. They have organized virtual dating groups for couples looking for information on how to separate during the pandemic.

She says she was surprised by the number of people looking for advice.

“People wonder how long is it going to take? How much is it going to cost? Said Farun. “We had meetings where we really talked about how to organize ourselves, what issues we need to focus on when it comes to your children. So, we’re kind of looking at what people might need at this particular time. . ”

Divorce Mediator Edit Farun She says she was surprised by the number of people seeking advice on legally dissolving relationships. (Edit Farun)

Farun agrees that the stress the pandemic has added to people’s lives has led to more calls to his office.

“Generally, it is natural for many couples to have friends and go out to socialize. And now, with COVID, the pandemic has created a lockdown for many families, so people aren’t going to work outside the home, or they’ve worked from home. They’re actually in each other’s spaces 24/7. So it’s been a lot more difficult and a lot more complicated for the families, ”she said.

As a mediator, Farun also saw how disagreements around parenthood can play a role in separating couples.

“We have families where one parent is comfortable with their kids playing outside, playing basketball, and another parent is not at all comfortable with that. And that could also be a factor with grandparents, you know, seeing grandparents and if that’s even allowed. So there are a lot of different variables around that for sure, ”she said.

Isaac adds that some couples who contact his business report having had issues in the past, but they say the stressors associated with the pandemic have exacerbated them and brought the relationship to a breaking point.

She heard from couples who lost money to the lockdown, from couples who struggled to stay confined to small spaces for months with children at home, and from couples who argued over the measure in which they each adhere to social distancing guidelines for themselves and their children.

Many people approach this pandemic and the lockdown differently, and it has had an impact on couples’ ability to cope with issues.– Diana Isaac

“A lot of people are approaching this pandemic and the lockdown differently, and it has had an impact on couples’ ability to cope with issues,” she said.

Mandarano admits that she and her husband had a rough time in their marriage, but says she thought they worked together before COVID-19.

“We made a new commitment to trying to save the marriage and in my opinion things were improving, things were going well,” she said. “We were marking things in our calendar for future dates that were coming, different events, so in my mind I thought we were on the right track. ”

Andrew Sofin is President of the Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy in Montreal. He’s been a marriage counselor for 25 years and says he’s never seen anything wreaking havoc on marriages like this pandemic.

“The pandemic has become like an amplifier that only exacerbates all the problems within a relationship,” he says.

Andrew Sofin, president of the Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy in Montreal, says that in his 25 years as a counselor, he has never seen anything wreaking havoc on marriages like this pandemic. (Jean-Claude Taliana / CBC)

And Sofin has noticed that some segments of the population are harder hit than others.

“What we’re really seeing is that these are the people who have had the big stressor. So if they’re front-line workers, whether it’s in the hospital or even the grocery store, they live in a small, really packed place in an urban center, and maybe they don’t. not enough offices for everyone to go to school and work. These are the people who are really in crisis, ”said Sofin.

Therapy can sometimes help couples come to terms with their differences, and Sofin says some people try it out before resorting to divorce.

Mandarano says she has come to accept that in her case, this will not happen.

“I knew from his expression that it was final. I knew as I followed him up the stairs, out the door and down the aisle in his pajamas, that when he closed that car door and left, my life as I knew it just changed forever ” , she said.

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