With Christmas and New Year’s just around the corner, a lot of couples have decided to just grin and bear it through the holidays while still dealing with COVID, especially for the sake of the kids.  But soon after the holiday guests return home or the kids go back to school, many will find there is no point to keeping up the facade, particularly after this year of unprecedented events has called into question for all of us whether we are truly satisfied with the life we’ve built, and what will make us happy moving forward?

Truth be told, there are a lot of unspoken sacrifices we all make either for our spouses or our children. Many times, we may not even be aware of how much of ourselves we’ve given up until a life-altering event like death, divorce, a world-wide pandemic, some personal health crisis, or maybe a child’s emancipation causes us to contemplate all our past choices, and re-evaluate what we want for our own future, separate and apart from everyone else.

If a separation is the answer to either end your suffering or provide you the opportunity to pursue a different life, understand that the path to freedom may not be easy.  Find an ally you can trust that will help you strategize, particularly if you are in fear of your safety or are unsure of how to navigate family dynamics. Change always causes disruption, and it can become overwhelming to keep track of everything that needs to be accomplished while you are going through emotional turmoil, so my advice is to prioritize the tasks based on their time sensitivity.  In other words, tackle what is most urgent first by starting with these 8 tasks:

1. Schedule a consult with an experienced attorney to learn about your legal rights and obligations;
2. Prepare a budget for yourself– this is how you can determine what you can afford in rent, etc.;
3. Look at apartments or other suitable short-term living arrangements;
4. Notify the post office and get mail forwarded elsewhere;
5. Go through your home and photograph all expensive items while listing the things you want to take;
6. Set up your own bank account and an individual credit card;
7. Change your passwords and lay low with social media; and
8. Find a mental health professional for emotional support.

When coming up with an exit script, usually less is best, particularly if what you want to say can’t pass this 3-prong test: (1) is it true? (2) is it necessary? and (3) is it kind?  Is there really a point in calling someone names or pointing out all their flaws?  Rather than blame someone else because you are not happy, just take ownership of your plan to move forward to pursue your own passions and rediscover the joys in life.  In other words, stick to phrases like “I need time to think, I need some space, I am taking some time away” while at the same time reassuring your partner that you want to unravel your lives in a civilized manner that minimizes the chaos for everyone involved.

Before an actual move-out occurs, most parents try to address two immediate issues: (1) the time-sharing schedule with the kids and (2) monthly child support arrangements.  Division of assets and spousal support may require more time to figure out, but eventually either through mediation, a negotiated settlement or a court order all the major issues should be resolved within about a year for most couples, unless they are part of that 25% that fall into the category of high-conflict cases that can drag on for years.

The first time I meet with a client going through a separation or divorce, I can sense how much is weighing on them– there is so much uncertainty, regret, and a profound sense of loss to grieve.  While managing their chaos, I realize I am seeing them at their worst, but I always believe that their best is yet to come.

Will your relationship make it after the holidays?  I’m betting no if you no longer believe that you can continue to build a happy life together going forward.  But you don’t have to face all the daunting tasks that lie ahead on your own.  In my experience, if you ask for help, you will be amazed at how supportive others will be in your time of need.  So even if your 2021 ends on a low note, the silver lining to that cloud is that it can only get better in 2022!

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.