Recently an 86-year-old man called our office to find out about divorcing his 82-year-old wife. For sake of anonymity, he'll be referred to as Paul. He complained that he and his wife have been arguing a lot lately and he needs to leave. Prior to the quarantine, he was able to leave the house and spend time with friends and family. However, since the quarantine began, he's been confined to his one-bedroom apartment with his wife of over 50 years.
Now Paul says his wife is driving him crazy and he wants to divorce her, then move back to the Philippines as soon as the lockdown ends. Paul wanted to know what legal options are available to him. It's calls like these that show that we can't take our mental health for granted in these unprecedented times. However, it was apparent that Paul needs more help than the legal assistance an attorney can provide. A lawyer can help him on the legal consequences of separation or divorce, but an attorney is not a therapist. Paul would be well-served by undergoing counseling to help him with the emotional stress he's experiencing as a result of the lockdown.
Lockdowns Have Increased Calls to Authorities and Lawyers
Cases of domestic violence have risen sharply since the stay at home orders were put into place by many state governors. Now people have to choose between going out and risking infection or staying home and living with their abusers. Abuse comes in mental and/or physical forms which tends to get worse when there's no other outlet available for both parties. Some family law attorneys are seeing an increase in the amount of calls from potential clients looking for legal guidance since early March of this year. The timing of the coronavirus lockdowns and increase in calls are not mutually exclusive.
Some law enforcement agencies in the U.S. confirm that they have also seen an increase in calls for domestic violence. The quarantine is exposing cracks in relationships and highlighting the fact that many people aren't living harmoniously with their partners. Many people want out of the relationship and are turning to legal options for ending the relationship. This raises the question of "are people seeking to divorce because irreconcilable differences have become insurmountable, or is this a temporary state brought on by the crisis?" It's not a question that is easily answered, and it's something that a lawyer isn't equipped to handle.
In fact, the increase in domestic violence has risen to the point that the United Nations has put out a call to combat the surge in domestic violence around the world. Unfortunately, the call may have come too late for many. Governments at all levels were unprepared for the surge in calls. Public resources such as the police, support hotlines, and shelters have been overwhelmed which means a lot of people will go without help. The feeling of helplessness and the perception of a lack of help can drive people to take drastic measures.
The Importance of Self-Care
The experts say that everyone needs to prioritize their psychological health in times of crisis. No one, no matter how healthy, can handle confinement for long. Now more than ever people need to connect to one other, talk about what's on their mind, and find creative outlets for their energy. Instead of thinking about how the other person in the household is irritating or aggravating, do something that directs the energy in a different direction. Take a walk, find a craft, watch videos, or simply go into another room and close the door. Putting oneself first is key to stopping a situation before it starts.
There is never anything wrong with walking away from a bad situation, especially when a domestic partner is involved. A lockdown may expose cracks in a relationship, but consider counseling before calling a family law lawyer and starting an even more stressful process.
Lazaro Law Group, Managing Attorney