Q: I am returning home after living in London with my husband and children for the past three years. The constant lockdowns over the past 18 months has put too much strain on our marriage. Once we are back in New Zealand I will be telling my husband that I want to separate.
I am very nervous about spending 14 days in managed isolation with him. His temper has been getting worse and he has taken it out on me recently. I want to make sure I am ready to leave as soon as quarantine is over. What can I do to protect myself and my children and make sure we are in the best position possible to leave him?
There are many steps that can be taken to ensure that you and your children are safe and protected during and after separation.
Unfortunately isolation in a hotel room can bring out the worst in people. The police have had to respond to incidents of family violence while families were in managed isolation. If you feel that you or your children may be in danger there is help available.
Organisations such as the Women's Refuge (0800 REFUGE) and Shine (0508 744 633) have 24/7 hotlines if you need information, advice or support regarding family violence. They should be able to help coordinate with the MIQ facility to have you separated from your partner. If you feel yourself or your children are in danger at any stage, call the police on 111 (if it is unsafe to speak push 55).
You can apply for a protection order while in managed isolation. A protection order can be applied for on a 'without notice' basis. This means a judge will decide whether to grant a temporary protection order without notifying your husband or providing him an opportunity to defend the application.
You can apply for a protection order without a lawyer. The application form is available on the Ministry of Justice website. However, a lawyer can help guide you through the process and explain what is needed for a successful application. As your husband would not have a chance to defend the application, there are stricter requirements for the evidence you must provide.
It may not be possible to speak with someone while you are sharing a room with your partner. If possible make a call while you are apart – for example, if one of you gets some fresh air in the allocated exercise area.
If you are unable to make a call and would like to be discreet, there are a number of "Shielded Sites", including Countdown, the Warehouse and TradeMe that can connect you with the Women's Refuge in a discreet way that does not register on your browsing history. You can visit any of those websites and at the bottom you will see a computer symbol which, if clicked, will connect you to resources or a live chat.
Preparing to leave
The end of a marriage is a difficult time and tensions often run high. It can be difficult to think clearly and objectively which is why it is important to have a good support system. This could be a family member or a third-party professional such as a counsellor. Your doctor is often able to refer you to a relevant specialist or community group. You can talk to a trained counsellor for free, any time by calling or texting 1737. A good support network can help you through the emotions and craft a practical plan to move forward.
Soon after you and your partner separate, construct a parenting plan together. There are resources available on the Ministry of Justice website to help you do this. Before you have this discussion consider a range of options that would satisfied you. Unless there are serious safety concerns for the children, it is probable that care will be shared between the two of you.
You will likely need to make some guardianship decisions such as where your children will attend school and where they will live. As the children's parents all guardianship decisions must be made jointly. The most important consideration is the welfare and best interests of the children.
If you cannot have constructive conversations, you can involve an objective third party. This could be a trusted friend or family member who facilitates discussion. Family dispute resolution services offer more formal mediation. Depending on your income, this service can be free or subsidised. You could also approach a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf. This may be preferable if there is a history of family violence.
Gather important documents
You will need to divide your relationship property after separation. To do this you will need to understand what assets and debts you both have. Start gathering this information before you leave. Important documents include bank statements, superannuation schemes, property titles, mortgage documents and trust deeds. Passwords are often changed after separation making it more difficult to access this information.
Prepare for the financial impact
Before you separate consider whether you have enough money set aside to look after yourself and your children in the short-term.
Unfortunately, it is common for one party to drain the joint account or cut off access to money after separation.
Make sure you have enough of your own money set aside in a personal bank account to get through the first couple of months. If you had a job in London, you could request your final pay check be paid into an personal account rather than a joint one.
Sorted.org.nz has some helpful tools and advice on planning for the financial aspects of separation. Your bank may also be able to provide guidance.
If you feel the safety of you or the children is in jeopardy, you can contact the police or family violence organisations at any time.
There are discreet ways to seek advice if you are stuck in a room with your husband.
To prepare for your separation, ensure that you have a strong support network and start gathering important documents early.
• Jeremy Sutton is a senior family lawyer, specialising in divorce cases where there are significant assets, including family trusts and complex business structures.