Going through a divorce or separation is a stressful time in normal circumstances. However, we are not in normal circumstances. Here Nick Aspley, Family Law Partner at Hopkins Solicitors LLP, gives his thoughts on the impact of the current lockdown on getting a divorce.
Can I still get a divorce?
Remember dissolving your marriage is the easier part of your journey to a divorce and is separate from sorting out the finances or arrangements for the children. You can start a divorce online and there is usually no need for you to attend court. Any disputes about, say the costs of the divorce, are being dealt with remotely by either a telephone call with the judge or by Skype, Teams or other platforms. For more on the court arrangements read on.
Can I still sort out a financial settlement?
This is possibly the biggest question that you are facing. National and world economics is changing day by day, hour by hour. If you want to sell any property, the government has specifically stipulated you cannot set up viewings of properties or have surveys and valuations done. The valuation of your pension, businesses, savings and investments are fluctuating. Many of you will be furloughed – but for how long and are your earnings being topped up or not?
If possible you should try and agree a temporary arrangement, say over the next few months, and then review the position.
If you have already applied to the court then some courts have adjourned final hearings for 12 weeks.
If I am paying maintenance and/or child support and furloughed what do I do?
You could ask your spouse/former spouse to agree a temporary reduction say, to match your furloughed income.
If your income has substantially reduced then again, ask your spouse/former spouse to agree a temporary reduction.
In any event do not just stop paying. You will need to communicate together.
If you have a court order in place then, if no agreement, you might have to apply to the court to vary the order. However it may take the court time to arrange a hearing and may cost you more money and stress.
If we have reached a financial agreement before COVID-19 can I change my mind?
If you have reached an agreement without a court order approving it, you will need to consider matters very carefully. It may be you agree a temporary change in the agreement until the end of the current crisis before proceeding with the final agreement.
If you have a final court order it may be very difficult to set it aside as you will generally have to demonstrate that any new event has occurred shortly after the order has been made, which invalidates the basis or assumption upon which the order was made, known as a “Barder event.” Normal price or share fluctuations are not enough.
However, an application to vary a final court order might have more success.
If the court is closed what do I do?
The court IT infrastructure is not great, and the reduced number of court staff are working tirelessly to ensure the court system is still functioning. Before the crisis the court had a long term aim of improving, and making better use of, technology including Skype, Teams, Zoom and other platforms. Unfortunately the resources are not currently available to make this happen. Like most of us, the judges are working from home and access to the court files can be difficult. The level of technology differs throughout the country. While in and around London Skype may be used in the Midlands remote telephone conferences us being used. Any urgent hearings are being heard on a case by case basis.
Check with your local court as to what the arrangements are but do not expect to have normal hearings in a court building any time soon. Remote hearings are here to stay.
Get some decent legal advice. Be realistic in your expectations over the next few months. Make sure your children are as settled and supported as they can be during this very difficult time.
We are still here to help you
During the lockdown we have closed our offices to the public but all of our staff are able to safely and securely work from home. So you can ring our offices, just as normal, and your calls will be forwarded directly to our mobiles. We are picking up your web enquiries and emails on our mobiles and laptops and a member of staff is scanning and emailing our post to us daily.
So although, there may be court delays, we are still here and ready to give you sound advice and support while you get the process started.
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