As if the new rules for social distancing, self-isolation, work from home, school closures, and general prohibition on travel (and fun) weren’t enough, throw in a family dealing with divorce and you have a real crisis on your hands.
On a practical level, the coronavirus pandemic will inevitably prolong any proceedings. Physical face-to-face meetings between solicitor and client are a complete ‘no go’ area, and court access is quickly reduced to remote access hearings only, quite naturally prioritising the most desperately urgent cases. Our long-established legal processes and procedures have literally disappeared overnight and are replaced by new age processes and technology – the virtual legal world has arrived!!
The Coronavirus Act 2020 expands the availability of video and audio links in court proceedings. If you are due to attend a court hearing anytime soon, expect to be joining by telephone or video link. All physical lodging and handling of documents must be avoided, and e-bundles (on-line filing) are pretty much mandatory.
Adjournments of the less urgent family hearings are increasing by the day. Most people involved in court proceedings can expect significant delay.
My children have two homes, which one do they stay at?
The family court guidance is clear in that children can – and should – still travel between the households of their separated parents where this is safe and practicable. If illness arises, a regular routine of contact should resume once family members have finished self-isolating. Maintaining an established routine will provide reassurance to children during this unsettling and indeed frightening time. Where direct contact is not possible, indirect contact should be encouraged and facilitated.
Don’t forget the wider family members too, most grandparents, aunties and uncles play an important role in children’s lives and will most surely appreciate regular telephone or Skype/FaceTime calls from you and your children whilst they are self-isolating.
My investments have taken a nosedive! How will this affect my divorce?
Divorce lawyers apparently report a surge of enquiries from prospective clients wishing to take advantage of the fast depreciation of assets and get a divorce deal sorted now. Strike whilst the iron is hot, why don’t you? Other clients are preferring to delay any major decision-making until the financial landscape becomes more certain again. As the coronavirus outbreak escalates, it is impossible to reliably value homes and other assets as couples need to do to assess a fair split. Nor can we predict when anything will revert back to a state of normal, whatever our new normal is.
Whilst the new ‘stay at home’ rules will inevitably drive unhappy marriages and relationships to the fore, divorce lawyers predict a real spike in divorce enquiries after these lifestyle restrictions are lifted. Traditionally, divorce and separation instructions peak after prolonged periods of family holiday togetherness. Sadly, I suspect that financial hardship and the stress and worry of coronavirus generally will take its toll on many family relationships this year.
Article written and contributed by Sharon Giles of Willans LLP
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. It is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered above, please speak to Willans LLP directly