The COVID-19 lockdown has had an effect on us all. However, for those in separated families, going through a breakdown of a relationship or even hoping to start married life, the challenges faced have been particularly difficult.
We’ve looked at some of the most common questions our Family team is being asked during lockdown in order to help shed light on your most pressing concerns and worries.
Are the courts still working during lockdown?
The courts are still operating, but not at full capacity. Hearings are also dealt with by telephone or by video conference.
Cases are now categorised by the different types of family work into “must be done”, “will be done”, and “will do our best to do”.
If a case is urgent, which includes child abduction or allegations of harm, it will continue to be prioritised by the court in the usual way. The allocation of standard applications relating to children continues, though this falls under the “will be done” category.
Other matters, such as correspondence from the parties and applications for directions within proceedings, fall under the last “do our best” category. This means that they are not prioritised by the court and will take much longer than usual.
Divorce and financial matters unfortunately fall under the “do our best” category and they will not be prioritised by the Court at this current time. The reality of this means that applications to determine the finances are unlikely to be listed at the present time, or will take longer than usual to be listed. The courts are trying to process Decrees Absolute in the normal time frame.
Given the delays in the court timetable due to COVID-19, you may wish to consider attending mediation to see if this will assist you and your partner in resolving the issues between you both. Mediation can also be carried out virtually. For more information on mediation, visit our page here.
Can I still see my child during lockdown?
Prior to the introduction of the measures imposed by the government on 23 March 2020, Cafcass helpfully issued this guidance:
This guidance makes clear that, save for medical or self-isolation reasons, children should maintain their usual routines for spending time with their parents. Cafcass makes clear that if there is a Child Arrangements Order in place, this should be complied with, unless to do so would put a child at risk.
The President of the Family Division has now produced some updated guidance at www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders.
The President has also provided the following links to resources that may be of assistance to parents in the present circumstances:
- www.naccc.org.uk – National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC)
For information on supported contact centres.
A new service from National Family Mediation.
- www.relate.org.uk –
Advice and tips for keeping relationships healthy during self-isolation and social distancing.
The guidance makes it clear though that where the arrangements cannot be upheld, then the spirit of the order should be. The President has urged parents to maintain continuity of communication via email, telephone or video calls.
Can I still negotiate a financial settlement during lockdown?
Negotiating a potential financial settlement at this time may be tricky. There has been huge volatility and fluctuations in the share market and property valuations are in a state of flux. Some pension valuations have also been affected.
These issues need to be carefully considered when looking at the financial disclosure. It may be possible to negotiate a settlement using percentage sharing of the assets or possibly sharing the risk across each of the different classes of assets.
Can I still commence divorce proceedings?
Since lockdown, the majority of us have been working from home remotely and still continue to do so. The Family team at Dutton Gregory is able to offer telephone or virtual appointments to guide you through the divorce process.
We use the HMCTS online portal which enables us to issue divorce proceedings electronically. We have access to our full caseload and so there has been no real impact on the way we work.
My wedding has been postponed – will this affect my prenuptial agreement?
Many couples are facing the prospect of cancelling or postponing their wedding for several months. If they have entered into a prenuptial agreement, it must be borne in mind that a prenuptial agreement only works for 12 months up to the date of a wedding and, as such, the prenuptial agreement may need to be revisited.