The UK has implemented the Government’s advice on social distancing and is now firmly in lockdown. Isolating ourselves from our family and friends has not been easy for anyone but we are slowly transitioning into this new way of life which, we all hope is going to be temporary. Having said that, there is a real likelihood that this new phase will continue on for some months until the effects of the lockdown are assessed against the spread of the virus.
With the British economy being hit hard, families are and will struggle with family issues especially if they are in an ongoing dispute whether that be within or outside of court proceedings. The President of the Family Division has issued guidance on how family law work is to be conducted in view of the strong public interest in the Family Justice System continuing to function as normally as possible despite the present pandemic.
But where remote hearings and filing of e-documents are now the new normal, what reassurances are there for families that the deliverance of justice will trump the effects of the virus?Salma Butt – Head of Family Law
For example, parents may be involved in or want to make an application to spend time with their children following a separation. The rules of isolation will have affected how such spending time arrangements are implemented with face to face meetings effectively prohibited. A parent may want to relocate to another jurisdiction with that decision opposed by the other due to the associated health risks. The effects of Covid-19 on children living in shared homes will be particularly difficult for families and there will inevitably be those who use the pandemic to obstruct the smooth running of an existing arrangement or refuse to enter into a new one.
Covid-19 (coronavirus) & Financial Settlements
On the other hand, how will financial settlements with divorce or dissolution be dealt with? The economy has been and will continue to be effected. Potential job losses or a reduction in income could mean a similar reduction in child maintenance. The Government’s advice on staying put in your homes rather than sell, buy or transfer could mean disputes relating to family homes are placed on hold rather than entering into a settlement which could potentially be disadvantageous to the either party. Pension pots could remain static and the value of businesses, shares and investments will be significantly less than before the crisis began. Of those who are desperate to settle to allow them to move on freely either by themselves or perhaps with another person, the uncertainty of how their finances will now tot up is another layer of stress added by the pandemic.
Message to our Family Law Clients
Our clients should be rest assured that despite the restrictions, positive measures have been put into place to ensure that justice continues to be delivered to families in this predicament. Urgent and non-urgent applications are still being heard by the family courts albeit remotely and systems have been set up to ensure the smooth running of such. All applications, whether they concern a child or financial matter are treated in the same way as before the pandemic save that alternative methods to resolve disputes are being employed. These unprecedented times call for proactivity and positivity and our family solicitors are now thinking well outside of the box to advise our clients on practical and effective solutions which whilst attempt to achieve what our clients want, also takes into account the long term ripple effect of the virus on our health, wealth and sanity.
We remain open for business as usual and our family team can be contacted by phone or email in the first instance followed by video conferencing if necessary or desired.