The crisis that is COVID-19 has ushered in a complete change of lifestyle for many – as society is changing and adapting, not all relationships are handling the changes well. It’s been widely reported that family lawyers are bracing themselves for an increase in separation and divorce, and certainly the situations are less than ideal for many. Here are a few examples:
- two partners may find themselves working from home in a confined space;
- pressures are on from supervising school-age children while working;
- lay-offs and furlough are leading to tighter purse strings;
- partners who don’t live together are unable to meet.
Simply feeling enclosed, with less freedom and fewer outlets to express yourself, is stressful enough – and if you have already separated from a partner you are still sharing a home with, it is even worse. So, what are the options for couples who are struggling during lockdown? Our team are available to offer advice and support over the telephone throughout lockdown, but here are some pointers:
Freedom to relocate
You certainly are not obliged to stay under the same roof as your partner, lockdown rules allow any party to relocate for a number of days, or permanently.
Anyone experiencing violence or intimidation can contact the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Hotline on 0808 2000 247. You can also call Women’s Aid, the Police or a Family Law Solicitor – but if reaching out, try to choose a safe time to do this.
Separated but living together
If the relationship had already run its course, and you were planning to separate, lockdown can feel especially tough if you are isolating in the same house. It’s almost inevitable that challenges will arise – but also important to seek legal advice so your interests are protected.
If things reach crisis point, try to take a few days apart, allowed by the regulations, and when it comes to ‘who has what’ during lockdown, a family law solicitor or mediator can help you draw up arrangements in writing and can consult over the telephone. Our family law team are able to advise over the telephone and can draw up any documents as necessary.
Remote Divorce applications
The Courts are still progressing divorce applications using an online system. There is also the option of using a more local court (e.g. Newport Gwent), and recent experience shows that they are easier to have direct communications with and just as efficient. Both processes can remove the need for any face-to-face contact.
Applications for orders relating to children or financial remedies can also now be made remotely; although in some areas, the forms must be downloaded and posted to the Local Court.
Changes to financial hearings
In these extraordinary times, financial arrangements can be subject to sudden change where an individual suddenly loses their job or income – this will particularly affect those who are going through the process, with the potential for previous informal arrangements now subject to review.
The courts are encouraging both parties to agree the directions prior to the first hearings, so they can be dealt with by email only. Remote hearings can take place – either be phone or Cloud Video Platform – and currently, the court staff and judges have been very proactive in facilitating such proceedings for lawyers and their clients. In-person hearings may still be held subject to individual circumstances but will be avoided if at all possible. Indeed, it is thought that remote hearings will continue to be the norm post Covid-19.
In all cases, our family law team will be able to advise on the next steps, to help you plan for an uncertain future post-lockdown. However, both parties will need to show some degree of understanding while lawyers and the court service continue to implement the new systems.
So, are OUR family law team expecting to see an increase in divorce and separation?
We’ve already seen an increase in enquiries seeking advice about relationship breakdown, though they are unlikely to be started formally until after the lockdown has been relaxed.
Xian in Central China and Dazhou both reported record-high numbers of divorce petitions in March as the country emerged from lockdown, with some lawyers saying their case loads are 25% higher. We can only wait and see if the UK follows this pattern. However, both in lockdown, and afterwards, our family law teams in Neath and Swansea will continue to support our clients.
If you need advice about issues surrounding divorce and relationship breakdown, the family law team here at Hutchinson Thomas are here to help. Please get in touch to find out more. Contact Robert Williams on 01639 640152 or firstname.lastname@example.org