Has Covid-19 changed divorce proceedings?

Dealing with Covid-19 and staying at home together has tested many relationships and for some it led to a breakdown in marriage. This explains the increasing number of couples either contemplating or seeking to start divorce proceedings.

Whilst Covid has not changed the law, it has made the process more difficult to navigate and increased the need for specialist legal advice when dealing with the challenges of separation both in terms of resolving arrangements for children and finances.

Financial Arrangements

The uncertainty of the pandemic has caused the value of assets to fluctuate, which will advantage some and disadvantage others. This makes the timing of a divorce application more critical.

The prospect of long-term redundancy, unemployment or reduced earnings should be considered when contemplating maintenance arrangements. Those working in the retail or hospitality sectors for instance are more vulnerable to being negatively impacted financially by the pandemic.

Whether Covid-19 is of sufficient magnitude to justify existing orders, other than maintenance, being reconsidered remains to be seen. Successful appeals are rare and limited to cases where something ‘unforeseen and unforeseeable’ has happened to fundamentally undermine the terms of the order. We can use the 2008 financial crash as an example – the Court of Appeal took a hard line stating that it was not an unforeseen event.

Arrangements for children

Restriction on the freedom of movement has created anxiety with many parents trying to manage contact with children, particularly if they live some distance away in a region which may have differing restrictions.

The need to shield, self-isolate or quarantine has led to many parents having to work out contingency plans. However, under the current restrictions there is an exemption for children whose parents live separately which allows them to move between each household.

Court Process

The increased demand for divorce coupled with staff shortages have led the courts to be placed under enormous strain. Whilst proceedings have been forced to move online, there remain significant delays which will take a long time to ease.

A recent report commissioned by Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division in England and Wales, raised severe doubt about the ‘fairness’ of video hearings brought about by Covid. Many of those who took part found it ‘extremely difficult to conduct hearings with the level of empathy and humanity’ normally required. This coupled with inevitable technical difficulties has made online proceedings challenging.

If you need further advice on divorce proceedings, contact Antony Ball on 01302 380225 or email antony.ball@keebles.com.

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