World Mental Health Day: tips for supporting your mental health through the divorce process

9 October 2020

It is well known that the divorce process can be a difficult and intense experience for anyone, but for those with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, the experience is often all the more challenging. This is particularly so in the context of COVID-19, with many of our clients experiencing additional difficulties due to the pressures of lockdown and the wide-ranging implications of the global pandemic. In recognition of World Mental Health Day, which is Saturday 10 October, we share our advice on how best to navigate the process and make the most of the support your lawyer can offer you.
 

1. Communication is key

Remember that your lawyer’s role is to guide you through the divorce process and that your discussions with them are confidential. Whether you have a pre-existing mental health condition, or you begin experiencing symptoms for the first time during the course of their instruction, it is important that you feel able to share that with your lawyer so that they are aware of what you are going through and can make adjustments to support you. Nowadays, many firms will have particular support in place for both employees and clients experiencing mental health difficulties. Making your lawyer aware of your needs gives them the opportunity to use the resources available to them to support you.

2.  Managing communications

Many of our clients find it helpful to discuss how they prefer to receive communications from us, both in terms of timings and content. For example, you many prefer not to receive emails after a certain time of day or indeed on certain days of the week, or you may have a birthday or other special occasion, or be experiencing a difficult period and need a short break from legal communications. Whilst there may be urgent or emergency situations, particularly involving children matters, where it is not possible to keep to those arrangements, explaining your preferences will help your lawyer to respect them wherever practicable. Equally, if there are topics which you prefer to discuss over the phone, or if you would prefer not to see copies of correspondence from your spouse or their solicitor without prior warning, ask your lawyer how this can be accommodated.

3. Practical adjustments

Ask your lawyer about adjustments they can make to support you, not only during your meetings with them, but also before, during and after court hearings. These arrangements will need to be tailored to your circumstances and your case, but can include options such as meeting you in a less formal environment, making arrangements for a private waiting room to be reserved for you at court or communicating to the judge that you may need to take more frequent breaks during a hearing than might otherwise be offered. 
 

4. Alternatives to court

 Speak to your lawyer about the various alternative methods of dispute resolution which are available to you. These include mediation, whereby you and your spouse meet with an independent third party mediator (with such level of support and involvement from your own solicitors as you require) and arbitration, whereby a barrister or retired judge is appointed to act as judge, and the “hearing” takes place outside of a traditional court setting. This process can be particularly effective for parties with anxiety, as there is far greater flexibility surrounding the location, timings and wider arrangements for the arbitration, including the scheduling of regular breaks and comfortable break-out rooms in which parties can meet with their advisors. 

5. Wider support

Remember that your lawyer is just one part of your support network. Because your lawyer has more insight into the proceedings, and you are able to speak freely with them without fear of breaching confidentiality obligations, it can be easy to come to rely on your lawyer for more therapeutic, non-legal support. Although your lawyer will always do their utmost to support you emotionally, it remains the case that they are not trained to provide the same kind of assistance as a counsellor, therapist, psychologist or other such professional. It is also generally far more cost effective to speak to a therapist than to have the same conversation at a lawyer’s hourly rate. Your relationship with your therapist can also subsist long after the legal proceedings have come to an end and you are no longer in regular contact with your lawyer. For these reasons, we always encourage our clients to consider seeking support from other professionals. We work closely with such specialists and are always happy to make recommendations where appropriate.

6. Pace yourself

Keep in mind that the divorce process can be an emotional rollercoaster and that it is completely normal to have both good and bad days. Even clients who feel that they have entirely moved on from their relationship emotionally can find the legal process itself challenging. It is not a sign of weakness to struggle with the process or to need a break.

7. Keep the process of the proceedings in mind

Amidst the wealth of emotions and conflict which can accompany a relationship breakdown, it is entirely understandable that parties may fall into the mindset of there being a “winner” and “loser” in the divorce, or of needing to punish the other party or air their faults and misdemeanours. This can often exacerbate stress and anxiety regarding legal proceedings. Ask your lawyer to help you in understanding what is and is not relevant to your case, whether in terms of the other person’s conduct or otherwise.

While these tips may go some way to help navigate the process of divorce whilst balancing mental health issues, there is no escaping that this is likely to be one of the most complex and emotional times that anyone can go through, particularly at this time of heightened mental, physical and financial challenges that many are experiencing. Our team of family lawyers are uniquely placed to empathise and engage with the impact of mental health issues on relationships and divorce. We have forged strong relationships with the therapeutic community in many fields with the objective of working together with our clients to provide well-rounded advice and support. We actively encourage our clients to engage with their own therapeutic support throughout the separation process, which can lessen the further damage that can otherwise be caused by a high conflict court process and it can also encourage personal and emotional healing. We also explore all non-court options with you with a view to reduce conflict throughout the process wherever possible.

Further information

If you have any questions about the issues covered in this blog, please contact a member of our team of family and divorce lawyers or click here to get started online and find out where you stand.

 

About the author

Cate is an associate in the Family Team, advising clients on matters including divorce and civil partnership dissolution, associated financial issues and issues surrounding children. She has particular expertise in jurisdictional issues and complex financial matters.

 

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