Understanding your options for separation and divorce during the Covid-19 Pandemic

When your relationship is challenging, it can feel like your whole world is out of sync.

The strain of a relationship breakdown has only been made more acute by the Covid-19 pandemic affecting our livelihoods, wellbeing, and relationships. Our expert, professional and highly reputable team remain open and available to support you in understanding your options at this time. Even if you cannot attend a meeting in person, we are offering online solutions such as telephone and video consultations. If you need privacy, we can arrange calls to accommodate this. Our aim is to give you the reassurance of knowing where you stand and what your options may be in terms of taking things forward.

Our lawyers are known for their solution-focussed approach, but they also care deeply about families as well as being mindful of the needs of clients.

The aim of this article is to answer some of the most frequently asked questions being posed at the moment:

Can I start a divorce during lockdown?

Yes.  Judge & Priestley have enrolled into a new online system which enables us to lodge a divorce petition on your behalf online. The good news is that we are not experiencing any significant delays with the online divorce application process during the pandemic.

How do I engage a divorce lawyer during lockdown?

Our solicitors are working remotely and are available during normal office hours.  Whilst we are currently unable to facilitate face to face meetings in lockdown, we can discuss matters via video call, telephone, email or even WhatsApp.  We can arrange an initial conversation at a time that suits you, using your preferred form of communication.

Can I still deal with the financial aspects of my divorce during the pandemic?

The economic effects of the pandemic on potential settlements in divorce are still unknown and may be difficult to predict for some time. It is possible that a fall in value of matrimonial assets may result from the economic chaos ensuing as a result of the pandemic. This is why it is important for a spouse / civil partner who is contemplating either a separation or divorce / dissolution to seek expert legal advice as to whether it would be more prudent to hold off accepting a settlement until a longer term view of the markets can be taken.

From a practical perspective, you can rest assured that our offices are open to accept and scan documents. We will ensure that the paperwork needed to assist you in reaching a financial settlement can be completed and exchanged with the other party. Many settlements are reached by consent in any event and therefore no court hearing is required. If any financial court hearings are necessary, they are currently being held remotely via video conference or by telephone.

Can I revisit an existing financial settlement?

It is important to know that once a financial settlement has been agreed, it will be difficult for the matter to be re-opened and for the terms to be varied.

For some settlements there is scope to vary them.If maintenance is being paid there is likely to be scope to change the settlement to reflect a change in circumstances.Advice ought to be taken on whether this is worthwhile doing. Be aware that simply citing Covid-19 and its effects (or the pandemic itself) as a reason or justification for setting aside a final financial order will not necessarily work. You may only be able to re-open a settlement again if there has been a very significant change in circumstances since the order was made (Covid-19 aside), or there has been a new event since the making of the order which invalidated the basis, or fundamental assumption, on which the order was made.

Is there anything else I should be thinking about if I am separated / already going through a divorce during the pandemic?

Whilst there is undoubtedly a lot to think about when you are going through separation or divorce, it is important to ensure that you have a Will in place if you do not already have one, or that you update an existing Will following a separation from your spouse / civil partner. Our Private Client team is utilising video conferencing to finalise Wills at this time and will make sure your Will is prepared and approved without delay.

Next Steps:

The foregoing are some of the more frequently asked questions that we receive. However, we are fully aware that everyone’s circumstances are unique and that at this highly stressful and unusual time, you may have other questions, concerns, or worries. We remain fully open for business. We know that the period through New Year can be particularly hard for some families. Judge & Priestley LLP is equipped with the specialist knowledge and expertise to guide clients through these uncertain times and our friendly team would be happy to hear from you.

Written by Anila Naeem

If you have any questions regarding this update, please contact Anila Naeem, Senior Associate Solicitor on 020 8290 7344 or anaeem@judge-priestley.co.uk.