There is no doubt that the national lockdowns increased tensions in already fragile relationships, notes Helen Shaw, family lawyer at Tallents Solicitors, and that the lockdowns forced people to delay.
Separating and divorcing during lockdown
This unexpected circumstance, combined with increasing financial insecurities has meant that some couples have stayed together for longer than they usually would have without separating or divorcing and have often been under greater pressure because of the stress caused by lockdown. But now the UK has a roadmap out of lockdown, at Tallents Solicitors we are seeing more enquiries from clients who are keen to move on from old relationships and start anew.
For some, the extension of the stamp duty holiday means separating and divorcing couples are looking to sell to keen buyers. For others, a new divorce portal is now making divorce quicker than ever.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (the Act) gained Royal assent in June 2020 and the implementation date is anticipated in Autumn 2021, although this implementation date is yet to be confirmed by the government. Once in effect, the amendments to the Act will allow couples to apply for a ‘no fault’ divorce if the marriage has irretrievably broken down without having to prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour or a period of separation. It is expected that the divorce will take a minimum period of 26 weeks from application to final order. It will also enable couples to present a joint application, which removes the inbuilt imbalance in the present system.
Family Courts during lockdown
The national lockdowns also created a surge of child cases as parents experienced access issues with partners. There was an urgent need to safeguard children at risk and the Family Courts remained open during the pandemic offering remote hearings. There were often disputes between parents about contact with children where contact was stopped. One parent may argue that this was to prevent risk of Covid transmission and the other parent may claim that they were unfairly being prevented from seeing the child.
As lockdown eases, it is likely that directions hearings and short hearings will continue to take place by video or telephone, and hybrid hearings, where some parties attend in person and others appear remotely will occur. This is expected to continue for some time yet but final hearings, such as those in care proceedings will now transition to in-person.
However, even as we move out of lockdown there are still long delays for listings in the Family Courts, which were already under significant pressure pre-pandemic. We take care to advise our clients that all parties need to be aware of this and accept that things might not move as quickly as they would like.
We have however, experienced some benefits from having to work under lockdown conditions. The courts and law firms have had to adapt fast, by improving their online systems, enabling communication by video call and generally working in a more flexible way, from which clients will hopefully see a lasting benefit.
In need of family law advice?
Throughout the pandemic Tallents Solicitors has continued to provide its free Family Law Clinic, however the clinic transitioned from in-person clinic at our Southwell office to a phone-in clinic. This is still available to anyone requiring initial family law advice – just call 01636 813411 on Tuesday evenings between 5pm and 7pm.
Our offices are now open for pre-arranged, socially-distant appointments to support couples through their divorces and to help them resolve matters as constructively and amicably as possible, also minimising the impact on any children that may also be involved. You are welcome to call us at Newark, Southwell or Mansfield to make a confidential appointment.