Pandemic compounds challenges facing divorced and separating couples — mediator

Pandemic compounds challenges facing divorced and separating couples — mediator

Asnat Hacohen highlights issues ranging from the impact of job losses on alimony payments to worries about protecting children in the homes of ex-spouses who have new partners

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Children cannot be protected from violence in the home when everyone is cooped up together. (RomoloTavani/iStock/Getty Images)
Children cannot be protected from violence in the home when everyone is cooped up together. (RomoloTavani/iStock/Getty Images)

Parents who are in the process of separating or have already divorced face particular challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, a divorce mediator told The Times of Israel.

“All sorts of question arise for those who are already separated or divorced,” said Asnat Hacohen. “What happens with the parenting arrangements? What happens if one parent doesn’t trust his or her partner, with that person’s new partner, when it comes to protecting the children from coronavirus and ensuring that they don’t bring it back home? Sometimes, one of the partners lives with his or her elderly parents. And if the restrictions on movement prevent one parent from driving the kids to the other [which they currently do not], who will have them?”

The pandemic also raises questions about money and alimony payments, said Hacohen, a lawyer by training, who lives near Jerusalem.

“Say there’s a complete lockdown that prevents the children moving between homes and one parent is left with all the costs and pressure of looking after the children. Say the person [usually the father] who pays the alimony loses a job and has no income to pay. What do you do?

“There are cases where everyone is right. Each family has to work it out individually.”

Lawyer and divorce mediator Asnat Hacohen. (Courtesy)

Sometimes, good things grow out of bad situations, Hacohen said.

“Some time ago, I helped a couple to reach a divorce agreement. The mother, who usually has the kids, got stuck overseas when coronavirus stopped a lot of flights, so the father took them. Afterwards, he said it was so okay that he was thinking of trying to see them more.”

Hacohen said there were big differences between couples who had been through mediation and those who had divorced in the courts.

“Legal rulings tend to be concise. They don’t deal with every aspect. In arrangements reached via mediation, mechanisms are put in place for making decisions so that there is less room for argument. The mechanisms are important because you can’t predict every situation.”

She said she is currently advising couples via the videoconferencing application Zoom.

“I had one case where the father is a doctor, an essential worker. He didn’t want not to see his children. Via Zoom, the couple agreed that the kids could continue to visit with the father in his house. He promised to change his clothes and shower and to clean the house well before they come. In this case, the wife needs a break, trusts him and was willing to show flexibility.

“In another case, a divorced mother, whose elderly parents live in a separate unit within the same building, wanted to consult about what to do with her small daughter. The arrangement that was agreed upon was that the child would not go to the father’s house — he lives with someone else —  but that another unit in the building, which the mother had been letting, would be emptied and cleaned so that the father could meet the girl there.

“With couples who are separated or divorced, there are sometimes lots of people involved! Each family is different, with different needs.”

For couples who are in the process of separation, do not get on, but are still living in the same home, Hacohen usually advises a temporary agreement with a set framework for each day. This specifies, for example, how many hours each parent can work and devote to personal leisure, how long each one should be with the children and how responsibilities should be divided for chores such as cooking and cleaning. “This often calms the atmosphere and creates a kind of physical separation, even if it’s not a real separation,” Hacohen said.

She added, “If mediation is like an antibiotic, a prenuptial agreement is like a vaccination. Even if we don’t define things in the former in detail, we talk about issues such as division of responsibilities and different views about subjects such as religion, education and money. Lots of people divorce because they have different attitudes towards money. Once these things have been talked about, there’s a coordination of expectations.”

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