Changes in family law – Coronavirus

The outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK has had a knock on effect on many individuals and businesses. The increased time at home and reduced pay has unfortunately put pressure on some families.

Here are some of the key questions we’re being asked…

Can I still start divorce proceedings whilst in lockdown?

Yes. You can still start divorce proceedings during lockdown if you have decided that your marriage has broken down beyond repair. Donnelly & Elliott starts separation and divorce cases with a free telephone call in order to understand your position and situation, we will then advise on the next steps. We can then use email or post to get the relevant documentation to you. In the majority of cases, an agreement can be made and there is no need to attend court in person. You can also start divorce proceedings if you and your partner are living in the same household, but are leading separate lives.

What do I need to start divorce proceedings and how do we progress/discuss matters if we can’t come into the office?

Our solicitors are working remotely and are available during our normal working hours. While we are currently unable to facilitate face to face meetings, we can discuss matters via video call, telephone, email or even WhatsApp. We can arrange an initial conversation at a time that suits you, using your preferred form of communication. Once we have received your identity details and your file has been opened, we can contact your partner and begin the divorce process. The only thing we need as a hard copy is your original marriage certificate, which you can post to our office.

You are already dealing with my divorce, will there be a delay?

The courts are open and working, although there might be a slight delay to in the administration as many court staff are working remotely. The court is still able to deal with the divorce process and if an application is classed as urgent then they will prioritise accordingly.

Can we still deal with the financial aspects of the divorce during the pandemic?

Yes. Our offices are open to accept post and scan documents. We will ensure that the paperwork needed to assist you in reaching a financial agreement can be completed and exchanged with the other party. For those just starting the financial aspect of divorce, we are able to prepare and discuss proposals with you as usual. It may not be the right time to come to a financial agreement as you or your ex-partner’s income may have reduced substantially during the current situation. This could be as a result of either furlough leave, working at reduced level of income, redundancy or a business asset that has seen a substantial drop in turnover. If this is the case it may not be advisable to conclude matters at the moment, but this is your decision. If any financial court hearings are necessary then they are currently being held remotely via video conference.

What happens if we have a child arrangement order?

Amid the lockdown and the restriction of movement of people, the government has stated that parents are permitted to leave their homes to facilitate contact with the other parent. If you are both in agreement about a change your childcare arrangements given the current circumstances, then you can of course adapt your arrangement. However, we would recommend that you record the change in writing or email, and agree when these changes will be reviewed. If you have a court order, then you should continue to abide by it unless there is a valid reason not to do so, such as following the medical advice to self-isolate. The courts have said that if there is a cause for the provisions in a court order to be varied then the “spirit” of the court order should still be followed such as remote contact/video call.

Can I start an application for a child arrangement order during lockdown?

The courts are open for business so, if you believe that such an application is needed, it can be made. You will still need to meet with a local mediator, which can be facilitated by video call. If an application to the court is still required after mediation then the courts are also using video conferencing for court hearings to ensure that there is minimal delay.

Is there anything else I should be thinking about if I am separated/already going through a divorce during the pandemic?

It may sound morbid, but you may want to consider making a Will if you don’t have one already, or if you need to amend it following a separation from your spouse/civil partner. You are still able to write and finalise a Will during lockdown. We are utilising video conferencing and will make sure your Will is prepared and approved without delay. Please see our post on how we continue to write Wills during lockdown. You might also want to check who would receive any pension benefit in the event of your death. You can usually do this by making a quick call to the pension department administrators, should your pension beneficiaries need changing, they will send you out a form called an “expression of wishes form.” You can then stipulate who you would want to inherit any pension provision, whilst the pension trustees are not bound to follow your requests, they do use it as a point of reference. If you have any other questions or would like to talk to us directly, please don’t hesitate to contact Donnelly & Elliott on 02392 50 55 00 or email enqs@donnelly-elliott.co.uk