Article by Lucinda Holliday, head of family & divorce at Blaser Mills Law
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect almost every aspect of our lives, those who are currently going through or considering filing for divorce are undoubtedly going to have questions about how proceedings are affected.
Here are some of the issues they must take into consideration during this period of uncertainty.
If you are in a marriage or relationship you no longer want to be in during this current lockdown period, it can be an extremely difficult time. However, it is important to remember that family and divorce lawyers are continuing to advise on such situations, enabling couples to manage the process of their separations.
Most family and divorce lawyers are continuing to work in a digital capacity, conducting meetings via video conferencing software such as Teams, Skype or Zoom. For some this may be far more convenient than having to visit the lawyer in person, as discussions can take place in the comfort of their own homes. However, if you are continuing to live with your partner or you do not have access to childcare in your household, this can be rather difficult. It is important you discuss your current arrangements with your lawyer so the best method of contact can be chosen.
Even without the pandemic, the practicalities of a separation are difficult. Some may be lucky enough to have the resources available to physically separate and are able to move to a different property. Those who take this route must be aware that the asset pot and income available may reduce slightly due to having two sets of accommodation to run.
Physically separating may be more difficult during lockdown, but it can be done. As government guidelines are continuing to change, couples should continue to check their decision is within the guidelines set. Currently, it is encouraged that all non-essential moves are postponed. However, in the case of a separation, a move could be classed as essential, especially if conflict is occurring in the primary home.
In some cases, it may not be safe for an individual to stay in a home with their spouse, for example if the relationship is abusive. In this case, you must prioritise your own safety and the safety of the children and look at relocating temporarily to a family member or friend’s house. If this is not possible, it is vital you seek additional legal advice.
If a move in not possible and you are safe in your current living arrangement it would be a good idea to speak to your partner and discuss how you can both make things easier for each other. Give each other some space, but also ensure your communication is co-operative and non-confrontational, especially if you have children in the house.
If you are currently going through a divorce
You may find that, although court processes and traditional negotiations through solicitors are continuing, there are delays in the valuation of evidence. This is due to experts being unavailable or simply because some court hearings are being adjourned. The court is not prioritising specific cases, especially if there is an urgent need to ensure the safety or welfare of those involved.
In cases where couples are deciding to pause it is often due to the fact that properties are unlikely to sell, and people must take time to consider the financial impact COVID-19 may have on their employment status, businesses and savings. If you are considering pausing proceedings due to financial uncertainty, it is important you communicate this with your lawyer, as they can advise on whether this is the best decision for your individual case. Court hearings can only be adjourned if both parties agree. The court will also have to be involved and a draft court order (signed by both parties) will need to be filed with the Court and approved prior to the court vacating a hearing that has already been listed.
If you choose to continue with proceedings, it is important to bear in mind that although it may take longer than it normally would, the divorce will be resolved. The court is encouraging those who cannot wait to seek other forms of dispute resolution such private financial dispute resolution hearings, adjudication or mediation.
A dispute about the divorce
If you currently have a dispute about the divorce, finances or arrangements for children, these can still be resolved with the assistance of the court. Although the court is currently restricting face-to-face hearings, video conferencing or phone calls are still available. Any paperwork can also be submitted electronically, which ensures the Judge can still obtain all the relevant information they need to make arrangements for a separated couple.
No matter what decision you decide to take with your divorce or separation during this time, it is always good to seek advice from a reputable family and divorce lawyer. They will be able to advise further on what is best to do in your current circumstance, as well as provide you with the most up to date information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
About the author
Lucinda is Partner and the Head of the Family and Divorce team. She is an expert in her field with particular expertise in dissolution, divorce and separation and the associated financial issues and children matters that might occur as a result of the breakdown of a relationship. Lucinda is an accredited mediator, and has been practicing since 2011.
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