Below is a list of frequently asked questions about family breakdown during the Covid-19 outbreak.
My relationship has broken down, can I still get a divorce during lockdown?
Yes, you can still apply for a divorce, and move towards sorting arrangements for children and future financial arrangements.
Sadly, the enforced lockdown is likely to cause added pressure for families already suffering difficulties in their relationship. We are here for you though. Our Family Law Team is working remotely and able to advise by telephone, FaceTime, Skype and email.
I have a court hearing coming up about my divorce, will it still take place?
The courts are currently shut for almost all face-to-face hearings, with the majority of hearings being held remotely, either by video link or by telephone, if video isn't possible. Some hearings are a mix of attendance at court, whilst others link into hearings electronically.
Whilst the court is trying to present a "business as usual" face, there were already significant delays in the Family Court system prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. Due to staff shortages and remote working, this has increased and so some non-urgent family matters take longer to be resolved.
The Family Court is encouraging financial First Appointment hearings to be dealt with by the parties on paper, by agreeing what directions they seek from the court to progress their case.
It is also encouraging Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearings to be conducted privately, with the parties jointly instructing an experienced financial remedy solicitor or barrister to hold a private, out of court, FDR appointment. The solicitor or barrister would conduct the hearing instead of a judge, giving an indication to them as to how their case should resolve and encouraging them to reach an agreed settlement. This is an option you will need to discuss with your solicitor to assess whether it is the right option for you. FDR hearings are still being held by the court, but usually via video hearing.
How will the economic impact of lockdown affect my divorce settlement?
If you are currently negotiating a financial settlement, you will need to consider whether it is still appropriate to use the pre-pandemic valuations for your assets as these may no longer be accurate. This includes the valuations for property, investments, business assets and pensions. It may be necessary to obtain up-to-date valuations of assets before reaching a financial agreement.
The reality is that the on/off lockdown, and uncertainty as to when we can return to some sort of normality, means that it is very difficult to also be clear about the economic impact of the pandemic. For example, house prices have risen, arguably, in part because of the stamp duty reductions introduced by the Government, but what will happen to prices after this ends in March is anyone's guess.
This means it is more difficult to be certain about what is a fair settlement, but many are reluctant, or unable, to put on hold determining their financial claims until there is greater certainty. For some, it may be prudent to delay resolving financial matters until the future is clearer.
Where financial orders are already in place containing provisions for the payment of spousal maintenance, there will inevitably be applications made back to the Family Court to seek an increase, or decrease, in the amount being paid due to the change in financial circumstances. The current situation may also have an effect on the amount of child maintenance an individual can pay for their children.
How can we help?
We are here for you and your family. We have experienced, professional and sympathetic family lawyers who can advise you on all aspects of relationship breakdown. This includes divorce, separation and the resolution of financial and children matters.
Contact us and we’ll make sure the right legal advisor gets back to you.
This information is given to the best of our knowledge and does not constitute individual legal advice upon which you can rely. The situation relating to Covid-19 is constantly evolving and may have changed since this document was produced. For up to date advice on your own situation, please contact us before taking any action.