Will self-isolation in an ailing marriage spell the end or a new beginning?
A while ago we wrote about January – the divorce month. Often the family pressures that emerge during the festive season, combined with the enforced proximity to each other, turn a marriage from ailing to failing. Periods of extended time together and disruption to normal routine can bring into sharp contrast small cracks and imperfections in a marriage that the spouses were able to ignore the rest of the year.
What effect, then, will self-isolation have on marriages already under strain? If one family member tests positive for COVID19, or exhibits any symptoms even without having a test, all members of the same family must be in quarantine for 14 days. Two weeks is long enough to be stuck inside with someone you’re not getting on with, but if the government follows other countries in declaring a lockdown, we could all be self-isolating for much longer.
Make or break
As divorce lawyers, you might expect us to root for a break-up. After all, our business is built on divorce cases. Nothing could be further from the truth. Divorce lawyers are also known as family lawyers, and our priority is always ensuring the best possible outcome for the family. Sometimes divorce is the best possible outcome. Children are better off in two separate calm, loving homes than under one roof with both parents constantly at war with each other. But we are always pleased when two people considering divorce manage to work out their differences and re-commit to each other. We want to see happy and harmonious families and always support couples in their efforts to resolve conflict.
The enforced time together caused by COVID19 may very well cause couples to reflect on their lives together. They will have a chance, rare in our busy lives these days, to talk about values, priorities, challenges. There may be more fights than usual, as the tedium of confinement exaggerates small irritations. The very presence of the other person 24/7 may become unbearable.
But something positive may happen too. The enormity of the global pandemic and the threat to our health and very way of life may cause couples to reassess their past differences. They may realise they had a habit of bickering over petty matters, which only now are revealed in their true insignificance. They may bond over a shared concern for friends and neighbours, and for each other. The time together could re-ignite a flame that has all but died, and they could find themselves watching Netflix together, playing games, and doing the things they did in the early days of their relationship.
Speeding up what was already there
In either case, self-isolation is likely to exacerbate or accelerate a process that was partially latent and not yet obvious to either spouse. If the marriage really has broken down irretrievably, forced togetherness may be the final straw. It may convince both parties that they truly no longer wish to be married, and as soon as the restrictions are lifted their first port of call will be the divorce attorney.
For those who retain a shred of love and commitment for each other, but have experienced some difficulties in the marriage, the isolation may just give them space and time to unravel the tangled threads of their relationship and find solutions to their problems. It may remind them of why they married in the first place. It may mean the call to the divorce lawyer doesn’t happen, or a case already underway may be withdrawn.
Change of heart – change of marital regime?
For some, conflict resolution may mean a redefinition of the marriage. They may review their matrimonial regime and, in light of changes in their lives since getting married, decide to alter it via a post-nuptial contract. They may change their wills.
Change is inevitable
At this stage, we don’t know what will happen with COVID19 in the next few months. We don’t know if the current measures the President has put in place will be sufficient to contain the spread of the virus. We don’t know how long we might have to live with restrictions – possibly until a vaccine is available, and we don’t know how long that will be. Some say 12-18 months. The world is full of unknowns. Living with constant stress and uncertainty affects different people in different ways. Some harness it to inform the creative process. Some find it very difficult to cope with. Couples who react differently to stress often find their relationship takes a beating, as they are unable to give each other what they need because they can’t empathise with the other’s reactions.
When we finally come out the other side, we will all be changed. Many marriages will survive. Some will be strengthened; some will go to the wall. The current crisis will probably not change the inevitable; it will only accelerate it. If a couple is destined to divorce, confinement may make that apparent sooner than it otherwise would have been. If they are resilient enough to weather the storms of marriage, they will weather the storm of COVID19.
If you need us, we’ll be here
Whatever these unprecedented circumstances invoke in you, we are family lawyers who are here to help. If you decide divorce is the best thing for your family, or if you want to revisit your matrimonial regime and consider a post-nup, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email email@example.com.
- A guide to divorce in South Africa
- The rise of the pet-nup: I’m taking the dog!
- Antenuptial contract in South Africa
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