Family Law – Helpful FAQs during the Covid-19 pandemic and government lockdown regulations
I am due to see my children this coming weekend in accordance with a Child Arrangements Order. Am I able to see them?
Many parents were left concerned about how to comply with Child Arrangements orders. Safely, following the government’s ‘Stay at Home’ guidance published in light of the Corona pandemic. On 23 March, the government published full guidance (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others) which clarified that where parents do not live in the same household as their children, and movement of children under the ages of 18 to visit parents is permitted and should proceed under safe circumstances.
Additional guidance was published by Sir Andrew Macfarlane, the President of the Family Division, to assist parents in complying with a Child Arrangements Order. It detailed that the current circumstances were unprecedented, and therefore many decisions surrounding child arrangements would need to be made by parents on a sensible and mindful basis. The best approach parents can take is to keep communicating with each other, particularly about any concerns they have and to attempt to reach practical solutions to any contact issues.
If a parent needs to self-isolate, it is clearly not a good idea for the children to visit that parent in light of the potential they have to spread the virus. It is appreciated that this will be difficult for both the parent and the children, therefore the use of remote applications to maintain contact such as Sykpe, Face-time, Whatsapp and Zoom are promoted to help contact continue but on an in-direct basis.
I have a hearing listed next week – should I attend?
The Family Court guidance says it will be moving to remote hearings with immediate effect. You should contact your solicitor for advice on how the hearing will proceed, or if you are a litigant in person (representing yourself at court), the court should contact you directly or you can contact them. It is apparent that the courts are moving as fast as they can to get the necessary technology in place to assist with hearings to take place via video or telephone. Where this will not be an option, the court may decide to use its powers to vacate the hearing altogether and relist it for a day in the future when things have returned to normal.
Where a hearing cannot take place via telephone or video, but it cannot be delayed, it may be held in a priority court and tribunal building following the government’s decision to keep a network of priority courts open during the pandemic to make sure the justice system continues to operate effectively. You can find more information on priority courts here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/priority-courts-to-make-sure-justice-is-served.
I want to start divorce proceedings – do I have to wait?
For those individuals who are in a marriage or relationship they do not want to be in, the government guidelines of self-isolation and staying at home can create a very difficult time of anxiety and even hostility. However, family lawyers, including those at Hansells, are continuing to provide legal services throughout the pandemic to advise and assist in enabling individuals to manage the process of separation. Our services are offered remotely through applications such as Zoom or Skype.
For individuals experiencing lockdown in the same house as their spouse or child, it may be difficult to get privacy to allow a remote meeting to take place. If this is the case, please get in touch and we will be happy to explore a number of methods of contact which may work for you.
The bottom line is that although the practicalities of an actual separation may seem difficult at the moment, there are alternative options which can be explored and it is helpful to keep in mind that government guidance is changing on a daily basis. If you feel your marriage has broken down irretrievably, it is possible to progress matters, firstly by taking a full review of the matrimonial assets and debts so that an individual can ascertain where they will stand financially once separation does take place.
How will this impact my financial settlement?
If you are currently divorcing and are in the middle of traditional negotiations through solicitors with your ex-spouse, you may experience some delays with regard to valuations of properties or investments, due to experts being unavailable or hearings adjourned. However, from what we have seen over the last week, the majority of cases are ticking along as usual and lawyers are continuing to seek an amicable and fair solution between parties.
There is some financial uncertainty at the moment, and the impact of the pandemic has been felt in asset portfolios and pension values, amongst other places. This has caused some individuals to pause the financial process, and others to seek its speedy resolution. Each case will turn on its own facts and the needs of the parties.
The court continue to encourage the use of alternative means of dispute resolution such as mediation (where parties attend a session to mediate with a view to reaching an agreement) or arbitration (where parties pay for an individual to adjudicate on a matter in place of a judge). What is evident is that the impact of the pandemic is being felt by everyone and in some ways that is encouraging creative solutions and allowing parties to reach agreements they would not under normal circumstances.
I have been furloughed and my pay has reduced, do I still need to make maintenance payments?
The standard line is that any order made by the Court stays in place until it is varied, discharged by the Court, or comes to an end in keeping with the terms of the Order. If a party does not keep up the payments they are required to under the terms of the order they will be considered to be in breach and the recipient party may issue proceedings to enforce the order.
As with most advice issued surrounding these challenging times, the best course of action to begin with is the most sensible: contact your ex-spouse to explain the situation. The court expects parties to be level-headed in the current situation and offer information as well as solutions to each other to allow everyone to get through these tough times. If your income has reduced, but you are still able to pay something, offer the amount that you are able to meet and ensure your ex-spouse this is a temporary measure until things return to normal.
If you are the recipient of spousal maintenance and you feel your ex-spouse is using the situation to their advantage and not complying with the order when they can, it may be necessary to make an application to the court to enforce the terms of the order. The first thing you should do is seek legal advice so a full review of your situation can be carried out and the most appropriate advice can be given.
We offer family law services across all our offices. If our team of family law solicitors can help you or you would like to arrange a call at a mutually convenient time with one of our team, please contact us on 01603 615731 or by using our “Contact Us” form.