Family Matters – How have things changed?
COVID19 and the lockdowns have left many people feeling adrift in their relationships and have sadly led to an increase of incidents of domestic violence. According to Women's Aid, 66% of women in an abusive relationship have suffered more violence during the lockdown period, and 75% say they have found it harder to leave their abusers. The good news is that we are still able to help you with any and all family matters during this time and have dedicated practitioners working within the team. This includes divorce or separation, children matters or any injunctive Orders such as a Non-Molestation Order or Occupation Order.  Women’s Aid. (2020) A Perfect Storm: The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Domestic Abuse Survivors and the Services Supporting Them. Bristol: Women’s Aid.
You may wish to undertake mediation in the first instance to see if matters can be agreed between you and your spouse or partner. Mediators are still working and this can be done remotely via Zoom. Thanks to the technology we now have, the same benefits of mediation such as separate rooms, individual or joint mediation, or family mediation can be accessed without putting yourself at risk. There are some circumstances in which mediation is not suitable, however, if you and feel that mediation may assist you it can help keep the relationship more amicable. A less contentious divorce or separation can be much easier in situations where there are children, for example. Mediation is a voluntary process and neither party can be forced to attend outside of Court proceedings. However, mediation is usually a mandatory step (save in certain circumstances) before any Court proceedings can be issued. We can advise you fully in respect of mediation and whether it is appropriate in your case.
If mediation is not suitable, or you reach an impasse, we are now taking instruction mainly via telephone or remotely for example via Zoom. We can arrange a telephone call or virtual meeting whenever is convenient for you and give you the necessary advice. Our office is COVID safe and so should you need to drop documents off, please be reassured that you can do this in a safe way.
All documents and bundles for filing with the Court are now often being filed electronically. This prevents multiple people handling documents and cross contaminating them. We may therefore be sending you more emails with documents to be electronically approved rather than printing hard copies to be approved and signed. Consequently, we will take your email address at the outset to ensure we can send everything we need to you promptly and safely.
The main difference to how proceedings are now managed is the use of remote Court hearings. The Court is providing both telephone and video link hearings at this time. Usually you would have to attend court in person alongside your solicitor and the other parties involved. However, during the pandemic, Courts are now using the BT MeetMe telephone conference service, Microsoft Teams, Skype and other video conferencing software. Generally these new methods of conducting Hearings are easy to use and access and do not require additional software above and beyond a smart phone for video conferences or any phone number for BT MeetMe. At the outset of the Court Hearing you will be reminded that recording a Court Hearing is a criminal offence and that it is essential you are in a private location free of disturbances for the duration of the call and cannot be overheard. Once this formality has been covered, the process can continue the same as in pre-COVID times, and your solicitor can represent you in your case.
There is currently a backlog in Court cases due to the increased demand and staff absence. However, Courts are still running and dealing with as much as they can manage but there are delays in getting Court Hearings and paperwork being dealt with by the Court. Court staff are working from home in the majority but the Courts are still providing a full service. Whilst this may mean any proceedings take a little longer than usual, we are still able to offer the full range of assistance and services as we could at any other time.
If you need any assistance in relation to any family matter please be confident that our team can assist you fully – the processes may be slightly different in these difficult times – however we can still progress matters on your behalf.