17 June 2020

Family Law Series Part 1 – COVID-19 and the Effect on Family Law

The current crisis caused by COVID-19 is highly affecting our social interactions and our routines have changed. The situation may even be more difficult for couples who are struggling in a relationship or parents who need to regulate and agree contact. Anxiety and stress are increased as it is not possible to go about our daily lives in the same way as before.

As family lawyers, we are always there for our clients. This doesn’t just include preparing your case and attending court; it means we also are available to listen, advise, and encourage during these difficult times. The crisis hasn’t stopped this. We are dedicated in providing ongoing support to our clients, whether that be by telephone, video call, email or text.

As a result of the stressful conditions some couples are having to deal with whilst living under the same roof, there have been reports of an extraordinary increase in divorce petitions many of which are based on incompatibility rather than infidelity.

In England and Wales, those who had already started the process of divorce, will most likely still be living together in the same property, which adds to the pressure already caused by the lockdown. Similarly, those struggling with spending so much time together may find it hard to find a way to see clearly whether the relationship has run its course and may decide not to try couples counselling or simply taking a break from each other.

While a no-fault divorce is likely to become law once the legislation resumes its progress through Parliament, for now couples must continue to deal with one party being ‘blamed’ for the breakup or wait for the change in the law.

Grounds for divorce under the existing Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 require one party to prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour. Alternatively, and only if both sides agree, they can part after two years of separation. If no fault is given, and one party does not consent to the divorce, then the period of separation is extended to living apart for five years.

For those who feel compelled to act now, or soon after lockdown, it is highly likely that unreasonable behaviour will be cited as the most common ground for such divorces.

It must be noted that filing the petition is only the start of what may be a long journey, as the process of divorce, negotiating over finances and agreeing family arrangements become ever more complex.

With reference to children, the governing Children and Families Act 2014 requires a separating couple to consider using mediation before they can ask for the court to intervene. At Howell Jones we always encourage parents to talk to each other, to try and reach agreement and face up to finances from the outset. This has become even more important in the current situation. Stand-offs should be avoided, as they will only be detrimental.

If you are concerned about your relationship, thinking about separating or divorcing or have questions relating to your children or any other family matter, get in touch with our experienced family lawyers who will help you along the right legal path.

our lawyers deliver an excellent quality service, independently recognised by The Law Society and our many returning clients.

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