Partner Brenda Long, in our leading Family Law team, explains how we can help during the Coronavirus pandemic if you are experiencing a relationship breakdown and considering a separation or divorce and would like to discuss your options.
A relationship breakdown
In spite of COVID-19 and lockdown, we are still working hard, albeit from home/remotely. You can access the whole range of services required to sort out issues arising on relationship breakdown, including solicitor’s advice, mediation, arbitration and court based resolutions.
Many people have found that spending prolonged and uninterrupted time with a partner has created or exacerbated existing cracks in the relationship and led to a decision to separate as soon as possible. We would always advise caution around this. The current situation is far from normal and many couples are struggling. It is still possible to obtain counselling – either individual or couples counselling – in lockdown so do consider this before making a firm decision.
Also bear in mind that we have no idea how long it will be before lockdown eases any further. Couples going through divorce often have to continue to share accommodation for some months – this will be even harder if you are restricted from going out due to lockdown. A delay might be advisable.
Also think about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and any economic downturn on your finances. It is likely that property values will fall (see our recent blog article on the housing market). Most investments have already done so, including pensions. Some people will face a pay cut and/or possible redundancy. You will need to consider whether this should influence your timings.
Separation and divorce
If you have definitely decided that you want to separate, we recommend that you take legal advice on your position at an early opportunity. We can arrange a telephone or video meeting with you. This will enable you to gain some understanding about what is involved, how long things will take, whether there is anything you should/should not do to protect your position and what information and documents you will need to compile. A major part of separation is agreeing a financial settlement. This requires both parties to provide full and frank disclosure of their financial positions with supporting documentation. It can take a while to collate everything even under normal conditions and is harder/takes longer during lockdown.
If you already have a good understanding of your partner’s and your finances, we can give you an early indication of the likely settlement. This can facilitate constructive discussion and agreement between you, if you are both keen to avoid conflict.
We will also discuss with you other ways in which you can try to reach settlement. If you do not feel able to talk direct to your partner on your own, you might find mediation would help. Most mediators are offering mediation by video so this remains an option. You can also explore settlement through solicitor correspondence – lots of cases settle in this way.
If your partner and you are unable to agree on a settlement, you may wish to consider arbitration instead of making a court application. Although the courts are still operating, it is a reduced service.
Several courts are closed and their cases are being dealt with by other courts. Most hearings are having to take place remotely (by telephone or video) and this results in fewer cases being dealt with each day. In addition, there are staff shortages due to illness/self-isolating. You should not expect your case to be dealt with in a ‘normal’ timescale and even at the best of times, court proceedings can take several months. Arbitration is essentially a ‘private’ route, whereby you can obtain a binding decision more quickly with a procedure that is slightly more bespoke.
Ultimately the message is that whilst things are not ‘normal’ a solution is there for you so don’t ‘suffer in silence’ and make sure that you get the advice and support that you need. Please contact a member of our specialist Family Law team.
For further information or legal advice, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0118 951 6800.
This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.